Oregon Schools Refusing to Allocate Millions of State Funds for Substitute Teacher Training

When substitute teachers in Oregon reported not being paid for time spent taking mandatory trainings, Debbie Fery, treasurer and chair of government affairs for the Oregon Substitute Teachers Association, took it personally. Fery, who is also a substitute teacher herself, fought to get paid for a required safety training in 2020. “It’s like no one respects us enough to pay for it,” she expressed.

While all teachers must undergo certain training courses, some on an annual basis, full-time teachers typically complete these classes during the week before school starts, when they are officially back on the clock. However, substitute teachers often have to complete these trainings off the clock. Many of the courses that districts require substitute teachers to take, such as cybersecurity, federal academic and health privacy laws, and school shooting protocols, can be completed online in just a few hours. According to the law, districts are obligated to pay substitute teachers for their time. However, Fery claims that many districts are not fulfilling this obligation, and the state funds allocated for this purpose since 2022 have remained unused.

According to district officials, the reason for the funds remaining unused is that they didn’t need the money in the first place.

Fery resolved her wage theft claim with the Willamette Education Service District, 16 out of the 21 districts it serves, and the substitute teacher staffing company Edustaff. All three parties had initially denied owing her payment for the online courses she took in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Following the settlement, the state’s labor bureau issued a guidance letter to districts, reiterating the legal requirement to pay substitutes for mandatory training. However, Fery claims that district officials have continued to refuse payment to substitute teachers despite this guidance.

Teacher associations, including the Oregon Substitute Teachers Association, played a vital role in securing state funding in 2022 for substitute teachers to receive payment for over 20 different mandatory training classes. However, less than one-third of Oregon’s school districts and education service districts have utilized this funding, raising concerns about wage theft among substitutes. To investigate this issue, State Sen. Michael Dembrow formed a Joint Task force on Substitute Teachers, which had its first meeting in early November. The task force, including Fery as a member, aims to address the shortage of substitute teachers and the increasing reliance on private companies like ESS and Edustaff to provide substitutes to districts. The task force plans to present recommendations to the state Legislature by December 2025, including concerns about wage theft.

Due to a scarcity of substitute and licensed classroom teachers, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 4030 in 2022, which allocated $19 million for districts to reimburse classroom assistants and substitute teachers for mandatory training. However, data from the Oregon Department of Education indicates that districts have only spent $3 million of the $19 million. Out of 197 school districts and 19 education service districts in Oregon, only 53 districts utilized the funds allocated for mandatory training reimbursement. Administrators from districts that did not spend the money or used it in smaller amounts claim that they either did not require the funds or paid for the training through other means, such as the Student Success Act. Some districts applied for funding but failed to submit invoices for reimbursement, while others requested only a fraction of the allotted amount.

While some districts found alternative ways to cover training costs, such as using the Student Success Act funds, others applied for the funds but did not use them. For instance, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District and the Multnomah Education Service District did not spend any of the money they were allocated. Districts claimed that substitutes took mandatory trainings during work hours, and any training conducted outside of these hours was funded through the Student Success Act. The Lane Education Service District, responsible for providing substitute teachers to Creswell School District, paid for their training and only owed $1,300 for hours of training, which was expensed to the school’s general fund.

The state’s funding for mandatory training covered the training of 11,000 substitutes and classroom assistants, with an average training rate of $50 per hour. Approximately 30% of these individuals were contracted by third-party services like ESS and Edustaff. While these companies cannot bill the state for training, they can bill districts for the training hours, and the districts can seek reimbursement from the state. However, Fery claims that Edustaff does not consistently pay substitutes for taking the required training.

Despite the availability of funds and the legal obligation to pay substitutes for mandatory training, many districts did not utilize the allocated money. The Greater Albany School District was allocated $300,000, which it did not invoice for reimbursement. Michelle Steinhebel, the district’s communications director, stated that the district had a contract with Edustaff, which was responsible for ensuring that teachers completed the SafeSchools courses and paid them for their time. Unfortunately, attempts to contact Edustaff and ESS for comments went unanswered.

Fery argues that withholding payment for mandatory training is a form of wage theft that contributes to the lack of dignity and respect experienced by substitute teachers in Oregon. Sen. Dembrow agrees, emphasizing the need to recognize and value the substitute teacher workforce.

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