District Trendline

June 2016: Substitute teachers

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District Trendline, previously known as Teacher Trendline, provides actionable research to improve district personnel policies that will strengthen the teacher workforce. Want evidence-based guidance on policies and practices that will enhance your ability to recruit, develop, and retain great teachers delivered right to your inbox each month? Subscribe here.

While student absences have been making headlines lately, teachers sometimes miss school too. In fact, one analysis we conducted found that some school districts spend nearly $2,000 each year for every teacher they employ to provide substitutes who can cover their absences. This month, the Trendline takes a look at substitute teachers' required qualifications, salary, and benefits. We find some significant changes in the pay and benefits provided to substitute teachers since our last look only one year ago.

Minimum education and licensing requirements

In the majority of districts, substitute teachers are not subject to the same education and licensing requirements as full-time teachers. While 35 percent of districts require a Bachelor's degree, 48 percent of the districts in the database do not. In fact, 15 percent of districts require no more than a high school diploma or GED.

In addition to education requirements, some districts also have licensing or certification requirements for daily substitutes. Although the majority of districts do not directly address this issue in formal policy, there are 42 districts in the database requiring substitute teachers to have some form of license or certification. The vast majority of these districts (36) require substitutes to have a "substitute teaching license" while six districts (Fargo, Kanawaha County (WV), Portland (OR), San Diego, Seattle, and Spokane) require substitutes to have a regular teaching license. Still, it may be a matter of semantics as many districts that don't require a license per se still require substitute candidates to go through district trainings or pass a test before they are hired.


While most districts do not make it clear if substitute teachers must be evaluated, one-third of the districts in the database have some form of evaluation policy for substitutes. Among the districts that evaluate substitutes, many specify that only substitutes in specific categories— such as long-term substitutes or those serving in specific schools— are evaluated.


On the topic of evaluation, there are some notable districts. In Dekalb County (GA), substitutes must have two satisfactory evaluations by an administrator to remain on the substitute teacher list for the following school year. Northside (TX) requires new substitutes to be evaluated after each of their first three assignments and requires two evaluations per year for experienced substitutes. In Milwaukee, all substitutes must be evaluated by an administrator after three or more days in one position.


Just as when we looked at this topic last year, substitutes are most commonly paid a minimum daily rate of $71 to $90. Portland (OR) offers the highest minimum daily rate of $181.52, followed by Los Angeles ($173.04/day) and Seattle ($171.20/day). All three of the highest paying districts require substitute teachers to have a bachelor's degree; in Portland and Seattle, substitutes must also have a regular teaching license.

These minimum daily rates may not be an accurate reflection of the amount many substitute teachers get paid. In fact, 70 percent of the districts in the database (100 districts) differentiate pay for substitutes based on a variety of factors. This is a big increase from 55 percent of districts when we last looked at this topic in 2015.

The most common way to differentiate substitute pay is based on number of days worked, either consecutively or throughout the year. For example, in Clark County daily substitutes earn $90 per day while long-term substitutes who fill vacancies for 11 to 20 days or more than 20 days earn $100 and $150 per day, respectively. In Pittsburgh, daily substitutes can earn an additional $31 per day if they worked at least 40 days during the previous two semesters. After 80 consecutive days in one assignment, substitutes in Des Moines are moved from the daily rate system onto the district's salary schedule.

Another way districts determine substitute teacher pay is based on license or certification. Many districts pay teachers with regular teaching licenses more and some districts also offer teachers who have certification in specific areas more per day. Birmingham, for example, offers substitutes with a substitute teaching license $60 per day, substitutes with an Alabama teaching license $125 per day and substitutes with an Alabama teaching license in either math or science $200 per day.

The "Other" category in the graph references districts that differentiate pay in other ways. Some districts pay substitutes in certain schools more. Others, like Conroe (TX), pay substitutes more to work on Mondays and Fridays. Oakland provides a more generous, year-long contract to substitutes who are willing to work at a specific school, presumably as a way to ensure that schools facing the most teacher absences always have access to substitutes.

Roughly half of the districts that differentiate pay combine various criteria from the graph above. For example, Jefferson County (KY) has a salary schedule for substitute teachers similar to that of regular teachers, featuring step increases based on years of experience and lanes based on education level.

Health benefits

Another key component of compensation is health benefits. Of the districts in the database, 35 offer some substitutes health benefits, generally to those serving in long-term assignments. Notably, this is an increase from the 28 districts in 2015 that offered health insurance benefits to some substitutes.


We see notable changes in the pay and benefits provided to substitute teachers in only just the last year, suggesting that the market for substitute teachers has grown much tighter. Access all of our substitute teacher data and more by visiting the custom report page of the Teacher Contract Database.

The Teacher Contract Database includes information from the 60 largest districts in the country and the largest district in each state, as well as member districts of the Council of Great City Schools and districts which won the Broad Prize for Urban Education. The database features answers to over 100 policy questions and provides access to teacher contracts, salary schedules, and board policies in addition to relevant state laws governing teachers.