Senate passes Zorn bill to help alleviate substitute teacher shortage

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate on Wednesday approved Sen. Dale Zorn’s legislation to allow retired school employees to return to the classroom as substitute teachers after only four months instead of having to wait at least one year.

“This reform is the result of looking at other states and working with educators to see what we can do to solve the substitute teacher shortage problem while still ensuring kids get a quality education,” said Zorn, R-Ida. “Schools throughout Michigan continue to face a critical shortage of substitute teachers, which caused some schools to close or switch to remote learning because they simply didn’t have enough teachers and substitutes.”

Under current law, school retirees may come back and work as a substitute teacher without affecting their retirement benefits until July 2025 — but only if they have been retired for at least 12 months.

Senate Bill 726 would reduce the wait time from 12 to four months for retired school employees to return to work as a substitute teacher without impacting their retirement benefits.

As passed by the Senate, the bill also eliminates the cap on earnings for those who return to substitute teach — as well as the requirement for the district to pay toward the unfunded liability in the retirement system on behalf of these individuals — for two years.

“The shortage of substitute teachers has been an issue for years, but now it’s affecting the ability of Michigan students to get a good education,” Zorn said.

According to research from Michigan State University in 2019, 64% of Michigan school districts said they were not able to find a substitute multiple times a week and another 21% had unfilled vacancies once a week. The study also found that 86% of responding school districts reported a moderate or severe decline in the number of available substitute teachers.

SB 726 now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.