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Supt. Ybarra: Substitute teacher shortage 'very severe'

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra says the state has been working to help districts dealing with COVID-related staffing shortages.

BOISE, Idaho — Has your child had a substitute teacher recently? Has their school even had to close because so many students, teachers and staff members were out sick with COVID? Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra says the state has been working to help school districts hit with staffing shortages caused by COVID-related absences.

Many school districts have had to temporarily close schools or move to remote learning this month because of the high number of teacher and student absences. Schools across the state are also dealing with shortages of cafeteria workers, bus drivers and substitute teachers.

Districts, including West Ada and Kuna, are even bumping up pay for substitutes for a few weeks to help meet the need and keep schools open.

Ybarra calls the substitute teacher shortage "very severe."

"I worked with Governor Little while he gave my department $10 million to distribute out to schools and districts to help increase the pay for our substitutes because the staffing shortage is across the board," Ybarra said. "It's not only just teachers, it's those folks that you might see in the lunchroom. It's those people you might see helping the kids in the back of the classroom with extra tutoring because of learning loss during the pandemic and during those school closures. So that was a big help. Also in my budget you will see an ask for a 6% increase for those paraprofessionals that are the folks that I just mentioned."

Ybarra says they're also offering incentives for state level employees to get out and substitute teach where needed. She added that the $10 million for substitute teacher pay bumps expired in December, so districts are using their COVID relief dollars now.

As the current situation plays out, Ybarra is also looking to the future. She presented her K-12 public school budget request to the legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee earlier this month.

She requested a total budget of $2.21 billion for the 2022-23 school year. That's a 6.4% increase over this year. 

In that request she's asking for $74.5 million dollars for teacher pay raises, including more than $25 million for this school year. She also supports the $1,000 teacher bonuses Gov. Brad Little proposed in his budget, which she says she asked him to include. Those bonuses would be paid with COVID relief money. Superintendent Ybarra's proposed budget also requests $39.3 million for optional full-day kindergarten for at-risk kids who are below grade level in reading.

This Sunday on Viewpoint Superintendent Ybarra talks more in-depth about the COVID situation in Idaho's public schools, her priorities for this and next school year, and why the message of one student's artwork really stood out to her in this year's "Picture My Future" Idaho Student Art Contest. Viewpoint airs Sunday morning at 9a.m. on NewsChannel 7.

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