Rhode Island State House

The Rhode Island Senate on Tuesday passed amended legislation sponsored by Sen. Bridget Valverde to help address the current shortage of substitute educators in Rhode Island schools.

The legislation (2023-S 0020A) 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 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.

“Above all else, our children are the most important concern here,” said Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, East Greenwich) in a statement. “The shortage of teachers and administrators in our schools is a crisis — and unless we can keep experienced, qualified educators in front of our classrooms, we won’t see good outcomes for our kids. While this effort began as an attempt to address a particular concern in my hometown of North Kingstown, it quickly became apparent that most school districts across the state are also at risk of losing retirees who have stepped up to help. The reality is that many have already hit the 90-day limit and have had to step back. Retirees have been an indispensable part of our educator workforce this year and we can’t afford to lose them for the rest of the year.”

The Senate on Tuesday also passed the House version of the bill (2023-H 5040A), sponsored by Rep. William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence). Both bills were amended by the Senate Finance Committee to add language, making it clear that districts must first seek out qualified permanent employees before turning to retirees, a practice already in use and preferred by district administrators. The committee also removed language from the House bill that would have provided a more limited 30-day extension, allowing retirees to work until they reach 120 days. The committee also amended the sunset provision to match the Senate version.

Both bills now go to the House of Representatives.

“This is a stop-gap measure to address a problem that needs long-term planning and investment,” said Senator Valverde. “Our state needs to 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.”