Lawmakers approve legislation temporarily lifting 90-day limit on retired teachers serving as substitutes
Bill is temporary measure to address crisis-level shortage
STATE HOUSE – With final passage in the House today, the General Assembly has passed amended legislation sponsored by Sen. Bridget Valverde and Rep. William W. O’Brien to help address the current shortage of educators in Rhode Island schools. The legislation now goes to the governor’s desk.
The legislation (2023-S 0020A, 2023-H 5040A) temporarily removes the limit on the number of days that retired teachers, administrators and staff members can return to work as substitute employees during any school year. The bill limits the use of retirees to situations when schools have tried and been unable to find other qualified educators to fill open positions.
Rhode Island, along with the rest of the nation, is facing a shortage of qualified teachers and administrators, one that existed well before COVID but was exacerbated by the pandemic’s effects on employment. School districts are relying in part on retirees to help lead their classrooms and schools, but state law prohibits retirees from returning to work at a school for more than 90 days a year while also receiving retirement benefits. Many retirees have already reached that limit, leaving school districts even more short-handed without them.
“Our state is facing a significant shortage of qualified teachers and this troubling fact poses a real threat to the quality of education received by some of our state’s students. This bill will allow seasoned and experienced retired teachers to provide even more support in the classroom to help the dedicated but significantly short-staffed teachers and our students who deserve qualified, quality teachers,” said Representative O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence).
“This is a stop-gap measure to address a problem that needs long-term planning and investment,” said Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, East Greenwich). “Our state must do better to make teaching a profession that people want to enter, stay in and advance in. Teachers are so critically important to the success of our children, our workforce and our whole future, but the growing list of demands placed on them, without the resources and support they need to meet them, have often made their jobs much more difficult and draining than fulfilling. We need a genuine re-examination of the resources we are providing to schools, teachers and students to align them better with the results we want for our state’s students.”
The legislation was amended by the Senate Finance Committee to make the House and Senate versions identical and to add language making it clear that districts must first seek out qualified permanent employees before turning to retirees, a practice that is already in use and is the preference of district administrators.