California Association Of
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
2468 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Re: The Plight of Substitute Teachers and the Next Covid-19 Relief Package
Dear Minority Leader McCarthy;
I am writing today on behalf of the California Association of Substitute Teachers (CAST), with a specific focus on unemployment, school safety and the upcoming Covid-19 Relief Package.
The contents of this letter falls into the following three categories:
- Basic Substitute or Guest Teacher Statistics;
- Problems Substitute or Guest Teachers (SGT’s) currently face, especially with Covid-19 in mind;
- Suggestions on conceptual amendments that are needed to correct problems faced by SGT’s.
- An exact number of SGT’s in the country does not exist. On one hand, a Business Insider article from August 2019 cites Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates and a claim of more than 500K SGT’s in the country (https://www.businessinsider.com/substitute-teacher-facts-life-pay-work-hours). On the other hand, CAST has found several sources that question those figures, and as such believe that there as little as 400,000 and as many as 750,000. The point is this: we know how many students, schools and school districts there are, as well as full time educators, why not substitutes?
- The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has a web page for SGT’s located at: https://www.bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes253098.htm . This page was last updated in May 2017;
- Nationally there are about 51 million k-12 students and about 3.8 million educators;
- The number of substitutes varies by state. The BLS has identified the following states as the top five SGT states (note: numbers are rounded off):
- California 106K
- Texas just under 70K
- New York with about 37,500
- Virginia just under 28,000
- Michigan with about 23,500
- Not all SGTs in America are required to hold a bachelor’s degree or even have classroom training;
- SGTs tend to get calls at the last minute, and have zero time to prepare lesson plans, learn school rules, or even get to know their students;
- The publication Business Insider states that SGTs are paid on average about $13.79 an hour nationally. In California, the wages vary based on district. Overall, SGT wages are not covered by minimum or living wage requirements and as such, pay in most districts is below the local community’s established minimum wage. To support this, Zip Recruiter statistics show that SGTs earn between $8.35 and $19.90 an hour nationally. Almost all statistics found identified the fact that SGTs are denied any benefits, even when they are prescribed by state law. For example, California law requires that sick leave benefits be awarded to a variety of enumerated employees, including SGTs. Sadly, many school districts have not implemented these provisions, notified their employees or make it difficult for them to be redeemed. Often, district rules stipulate that end of the school year they disappear if not used;
- Some areas of the US are experiencing SGT shortages, while others are overly reliant on long-term SGTs;
- 73% of school systems nationwide have an “urgent” need for SGTs;
- School Districts are not being ‘honest’ as to why there are shortages. Shortages stem from policy, pay and yes, treatment, as well as black lists;
- Over 2 billion dollars is spent annually on SGTs;
- Up to 10% of full-time teachers are absent on any given school day;
- About one year of a student’s K–12 education is spent with a SGT;
- SGTs are more likely to find work immediately following spring break and during the year when flu time rolls around and there is a shortage of flu vaccines. If that is the case, what about now during covid-19?
- There appears to be some doubt as to the ‘role and importance’ of SGT’s in the educational system;
- There are about 76 million students enrolled in the USA, attending about 131,000 schools;
- In California, there are just under 5 million students attending about 1,700 schools (as per 2019-2020 Department of Education Stats https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/sd/cb/cefenrollgradetype.asp)
- About 5 million students nationwide in some 274,000 classrooms have a substitute teacher on any given school day.
At this point, CAST wants to make it clear to everyone who reads this is that we are a vital cog in the educational process, and should be recognized as such. Many of us take pride in what we do, and know that we are making a difference while providing the continuity students need to earn the hours necessarily to graduate. Additionally, SGTs take attendance so schools can receive their daily ADA. With a teacher shortage in the country, it’s clear that without us, the educational system would grind to a halt and clearly lose money.
With those concepts on the table, I want to get right to the major problems SGTs face. Simply put, the majority of us have not received partial or full unemployment benefits yet for the following reasons:
- School Deny Us Our Proper Employee Status: School Districts insist that SGTs are represented by bargaining units, even though we are not allowed to belong, attend no meetings, pay no dues and have no representatives at the bargaining table representing us. This bookkeeping move allows School Districts to misclassify us as “other than traditional marketplace employees”. This denies us unemployment, health and quite often, retirement benefits. This misclassification also denies us unemployment benefits during the summer months. The reason is this: School Districts claim that because they provide us with Prospective Employment Notices, we have ‘jobs waiting for us’. As such, they have taken an unchallenged position that we are not employees and covered by a contract we have no say in. This technicality allows them to sidestep the law and not pay unemployment taxes even though as employees, we pay into the system;
- Pandemic Benefits Are Either Not Being Awarded, Or If Awarded, Not Being Paid: Around the country, because of problem #1, Pandemic Benefit payments to the majority of those working in the industry have not been paid, and the problem is only getting worse thanks to the implementation of distance learning is taken into consideration. In other words, the implementation of distance learning is putting SGTs out of work. This is unacceptable, especially since I have been told off the record that California SGTs should not expect to be back at work until Jan. 2021;
- Distance Learning Kills Jobs: California’s governor has made it clear that the state will only allow distance learning. This puts over 100K employees, out of work. Will we get unemployment benefits?
- Exceptions: I want to make this clear: this does not take into account maternity, sick (for whatever reason), or bereavement leave(s); and
- States Cannot Handle The ‘Overload’ Of Payments: For example, California’s Employment Development Department system is broken. Depending on whom you speak with, the broken reason varies. No matter what, about 90% of California’s SGTs have not received any money even though they are qualified.
The reasons for these problems vary, but they stem from one basic concept: the relationships we as employees have with the districts. On one hand, we are a vital cog in the school system and should be treated that way, yet on the other hand, we are denied work, placed on black lists, our breaks are taken away, benefits are denied and now apparently unemployment is denied – even during this horrible pandemic when teachers are being paid their full salaries.
With that in mind, CAST knows that Congress is working on the creation of a new stimulus package, and we hope that the legislation includes the following conceptual amendments:
- SGTs must be recognized as a distinct class, should be included in the package, and specifically mentioned so there is no question about qualifications:
- SGTs, like all educators, must be included in any and all Covid-19, First-Aid or Safety training provided by school districts;
- SGTs, like all educators, should be covered for Covid-19 exposure;
- If schools adopt distance learning and we have no jobs, SGTs should become eligible for either unemployment or an unemployment extension until we are allowed back in the classroom;
- SGTs should be eligible for all teacher related benefits, especially medical should we become infected or get sick;
- All monies that are earmarked should be spent on that earmarked item.
- SGTs must receive back pay and caught up if behind;
- There needs to be a clear statement of employee status in an effort to eliminate questions about eligibility;
- System upgrades to computers need to be made so timely payment of awards is achieved;
- Regular payments must be made once “catch up” is achieved;
- Notices of Guarantee of Employment need to be defined, especially with respect to Covid-19;
In closing, CAST realizes that every corner of the country is facing problems and we are no more important than anyone else. What we do want to point out is this: every business segment out there is having problems, and with respect to schools, there are dozens of questions, and we have not been represented by anyone in the discussions. Now SGTs have someone to represent them. Some of the issues can be rectified at the national level, while others need to be rectified at the state and local levels. The problems found with SGTs and our safety and unemployment during the pandemic need to be addressed at all levels – national, state and local. No matter which level they are found on, we look forward to working with everyone to find equitable solutions.
Michael C. Ross, Executive Director