Beginning next school year, anyone hired as a substitute teacher in the Wake County Public School System must have a high school diploma. The school district previously required a diploma but removed the qualification in recent years after rewriting the job description.
"We don’t know if that removal was intentional or an oversight," said Wake schools' spokeswoman Lisa Luten. "Our HR department made the change to include the requirement back into the job description."
"Current subs without a diploma will be grandfathered in," Luten added. "We don’t have a number of how many we have without a high school diploma, but we don’t think it’s many."
The change comes after WRAL News reported last month that North Carolina does not regulate substitute teachers and rules for hiring them vary widely by school system. Some people, including a Wake County substitute teacher, were surprised to learn that Wake does not require a diploma.
Not requiring subs to have a high school diploma is highly unusual, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. Kency Nittler is the organization's director of teacher policy. She and her team collect and analyze data on substitute teachers, including pay and education requirements, from abut 150 public school systems across the nation.
Not requiring a diploma "would be very, very rare," she said. "In most cases there's at least a requirement for a high school diploma or a GED."
A 2017 study by the group found that the majority of the 124 districts they tracked at that time required substitutes to have some level of postsecondary education, but only about a third – 38 percent – required a bachelor's degree.
"We've been collecting this information for so long," Nittler said. "It's not necessarily surprising to us, but I think it's really surprising to a lot of people that not all school districts require a substitute teacher to have a bachelor's degree."
Many districts set higher educational standards for substitute teachers than their states require, according to the study, and, as a result, district requirements for subs are generally more stringent than those at the state level. Thirteen states require subs to have only a high school education, and 16 do not specify any requirement. Of the 92 districts tracked in those states, just over two-thirds required at least some higher education.
"While the most common district policy is not to require any type of certification or license to become a substitute teacher, about a third do require some type of license from the state," the study found. "In fact, five require substitute teachers to have the same teaching license as any teacher (Cherry Creek School District (CO), Kanawha County Schools (WV), San Diego Unified School District, Portland Public Schools (OR), and Seattle Public Schools). The remaining districts that require a license have a separate substitute license, the requirements of which vary greatly from state to state and district to district."
The daily rate of pay for substitutes varies dramatically across districts in the U.S., according to the study. Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia offers the lowest minimum daily rate of $49, or just over $6 an hour for an eight-hour workday. Boston Public Schools pay substitutes up to $284 per day, or more than $35 an hour.
In North Carolina, substitutes with a teaching license make a minimum of $103 per day, while unlicensed subs make a minimum of $80 per day, according to the state salary manual. But how they are vetted, hired and reviewed is up to local school systems.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools requires subs be at least 21 years old and hold an associate's degree or 48 semester hours of college credit courses with a C or higher. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools requires subs be at least 18 years old and hold a high school diploma or GED and have at least 60 college credit hours. Durham Public Schools' subs must have any one of the following: a teaching license, a minimum of 48 college credits hours or successful ACT WorkKeys scores.
To sub in Wake County public schools, candidates are required to complete a six- to seven-hour Substitute Effective Teacher Training course online or a 20-hour Effective Teacher Training course at a local community college. They must also attend a half-day orientation at district headquarters and undergo a background and reference check.
Although the state doesn't have any requirements for subs, some education leaders say they would be open to it.
"I think a baseline regulation by the state would be good," said Jason Kennedy, Wake County schools' recruitment director. "That's something that all of us can kind of go by to make sure and ensure that we're hiring the best people possible to put in front of our our students."
The North Carolina Association of Educators would also likely support state regulations for subs, according to President Mark Jewell, but he understands why districts have varying rules.
"It’s very hard to get substitute teachers," he said. "When you can’t fill classrooms now with certified teachers, let alone with substitutes, it’s supply and demand."
"I think we would want to see educators, someone with a teaching license and certainly a college degree to be able to be in the classroom," Jewell added. "But preferably somebody with a teaching license."
Wake County's public school system has 6,501 registered subs, but not all of them are currently working. Some are teachers or other school employees who sub during their breaks. Of the total subs, 3,414 – or 53 percent – have a teaching license, while 3,087 – or 47 percent – are not certified teachers. It’s unknown how many do not have a high school diploma, because WCPSS does not track that information.