SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WTVO) — Facing a chronic shortage of teachers, Illinois has introduced a new initiative aimed at recruiting educators.

The proposed Teacher Pipeline Grant Program would spend $70 million a year over the next three years on 170 school districts with the greatest need to fill teaching positions.

“When it comes to our kids, we can always do more. And when that comes to our schools, that means not just more funding, but more resources — and most crucially, more educators,” said Gov. JB Pritzker. “All across the nation, school districts are fighting the impact of teacher shortages — as education professionals struggle to weigh their passion for their classrooms with their own mental, financial, and personal well-being. So as part of my education investment plan, I’m proposing an additional $70 million annually specifically targeted at addressing teacher shortages.” 

It is becoming harder for Illinois schools to fill their classrooms and hire teachers, but it is also becoming harder for teachers to remain in the profession once they actually get in the classroom.

A new survey from Horace Mann found that 1 in 3 teachers surveyed are preparing to leave the field in the next three years, while 57% said that they would consider staying for more money.

The group pointed out issues with education in the state. The survey showed that more support from parents and school districts, along with small class sizes, play a big role in job satisfaction.

According to a survey by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS), 30% of teacher positions went unfilled or went to a less-than-qualified hire, the State Journal-Register reported.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education, more than 5,300 positions went unfilled in 2022. According to the ISBE, the unfilled teaching positions are concentrated in high-need subjects and in under-resourced schools. The vacancies in the 170 districts targeted for the Teacher Pipeline Grant Program account for 80 percent of all unfilled teaching positions and affect 870,000 students.

School districts responding to a 2022 IARSS survey revealed that 68% had fewer teacher applicants than in 2021, and 45% of districts said the shortage was worse than last year.

The Illinois Educator Shortage Survey revealed the shortages due to multiple factors, including unrealistic expectations on educators and schools; unsafe work environments; years of deprofessionalizing the field through inadequate pay; and unstable retirement benefits.

Nationwide, traditionally nonpartisan, local school boards have become fiercely political amid entrenched battles over the teaching of race, history, and sexuality. Candidates opposing what they see as “woke” ideology in public schools have sought to gain control of school boards across the U.S. and overturn policies deemed too liberal.

Teachers’ unions and liberal grassroots groups also have been pushing back with money and messaging of their own, casting conservative activists as fearmongers intent on turning parents against public schools.

According to the governor’s office, the Teacher Pipeline Grant Program will allow districts maximum flexibility to use the funds in innovative, creative, and evidenced-based ways, such as offering signing bonuses, housing stipends, down-payment assistance, or loan repayments; paying tuition and fees or providing residencies or apprenticeships; and sustaining current teachers by providing materials, supplies, coaching, and school culture supports.

Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery said, “The teacher and school staff shortage is dramatically impacting our school communities, and we applaud the governor for addressing the issue. We look forward to working with him to help pass and implement this program to help districts with the most severe shortages attract and retain teachers, and working collaboratively on additional long-term solutions like improving teacher retirement benefits and providing support for educators of color.”

To address the shortage, Gov. JB Pritzker also signed four bills into law in April 2022, one of which allows teaching students with at least 90 credit hours to be licensed as substitute teachers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.