A legislative committee has approved emergency rules that will let Iowa school districts continue to use paraeducators hired to work with individual students as substitute teachers in any classroom.
This morning’s action by the legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee was necessary as the governor’s public health emergency proclamation which had allowed paraeducators to be subs during the pandemic expires at midnight. The committee is also proposing legislation directing schools to make a good faith effort to find substitute teachers and ending the policy after this school year is over.
“We don’t want enterprising folks thinking that we should put less qualified people into a classroom and use a para because we can pay them $12 an hour,” said Representative Megan Jones, a Republican from Sioux Rapids who’s a committee member and the bill’s sponsor.
Jones also blasted the Board of Educational Examiners for holding a meeting yesterday at 7:30 a.m. to reveal its solution to the problem, as that limited the public’s ability to review the regulations that already have been approved 24 hours later.
“This process has been very ugly,” Jones said. “…It makes me sick to think of eliminating all of this public notice.”
The executive director of the Board of Educational Examiners said state officials do not know how many paraeducators are employed in Iowa schools. The board’s emergency rule requires schools to ask for waivers when paraeducators are taken away from their main jobs to substitute teach in another classroom. Emily Piper, of the Iowa Association of School Boards, said that data collection is important.
“We do share concerns about this being a permanent solution,” Piper told the committee this morning. “We don’t think this is the answer, long-term, to our sub shortages.”
Melissa Peterson, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association, said there are paraeducator shortages as well.
“These are folks who provide services to some of our most needy and vulnerable students,” Peterson said.
Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids who is a member of the Administrative Rules Review Committee, blasted Governor Kim Reynolds for letting her public health emergency expire, prompting this scramble to ensure paraeducators can continue to be assigned to substitute teach tomorrow.
“This is the failure of the governor’s office to put us in this position. That has to be said today,” Hogg said. “This was totally foreseeable that something like this would happen.”
Hogg’s wife is the media secretary at a Cedar Rapids school, but she’s also a former paraeducator and Hogg said she’s often been assigned to lead a classroom as a substitute teacher over the past two years.