Students wait outside Radney Elementary School in Alexander City.

Last school year, Tallapoosa County Schools announced it would bring on 12 intervention teachers to make up for the learning loss of the pandemic.

Across the country, similar fleets of supplemental teachers were hired in public schools across the country this year out of federal COVID-19 relief aid, pulling students out of classrooms to catch them up on math and reading. Alexander City Schools hired 19.

But amid a substitute teacher shortage, some public-school districts are increasingly relying on their interventionists to plug the gap.

"We're trying to use them for their intended purpose — which was intervention — but we have principals and assistant principals watching classes," Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Ray Porter said. "It got so critical for a while that everybody participated in the school."

T.C. Coley, Alabama Education Association (A.E.A.) representative for the region, said Tallapoosa County Schools is not alone.

"What's happening is basically several different phenomena that are all coming together and creating a perfect storm in public education," he said.

One is the dwindling supply of teachers, a problem that's been exacerbated by the pandemic. Earlier this week, an Alabama Commission on Higher Education survey reported that half of Alabama teachers and school personnel are considering — or planning on — leaving the field within the next five years.

Substitute teachers are also in short supply. Last month, the Tallapoosa County Board of Education voted to raise its substitute teacher pay rate to $100 a day, less than a year after the board voted to raise pay from $60 to $75. Substitute bus drivers and child nutrition (CNP) workers were also given a pay bump in November to $75 per day.

The increase brings Tallapoosa County Schools in line with neighboring Alexander City and Tallassee school districts' pay rates, the main competitors for the area's limited pool of subs.

But where teachers and subs are hard to come by, federal aid is abundant. Alexander City Schools, for example, has been allocated $13.2 million in federal COVID-relief aid since 2020 to combat the effects of the pandemic, including learning loss. Tallapoosa County Schools received a similar amount with money allocated according to district size.

"So the system's hired all these interventionists, but now there's a teacher shortage," Coley said. "What it comes to is having to redeploy these supplemental resources to be primary resources."

According to Coley, it wasn't long ago the going pay rate for substitute teachers was $50-$55 a day, but the past two years have been putting pressure on the labor market.

Porter said it's not yet clear what effect last month's pay raise has done to grow Tallapoosa County Schools' substitute teacher pool.

"We've stabilized on absences, so our [current] sub pool is able to handle everything right now," he said. "We do seem to have better interest."

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