SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois lawmakers continue to grapple with a growing shortage of school teachers with new legislation designed to attract teachers to the profession.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, more than 5,300 positions are unfilled.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New bills introduced in Springfield this week hope to shore up the shortage by removing certain restrictions on substitute teachers, providing hiring bonuses, and raising pay.
House Bill 3442 would allow a substitute teacher who has filled a vacancy left by a licensed teacher in an emergency situation for 90 days or until the end of the semester, whichever is greater, if the school district files a written request with the appropriate regional office of education.
Senate Bill 2236 would remove the number of days for short-term substitute teachers to teach in the classroom, allowing them to spend more time at the school if needed, and remove application fees for teaching licenses.
State Senator Christopher Belt is leading a measure that aims to provide an incentive for teachers to work in underserved areas, as these are the areas that are most affected by the current teacher shortage.
House Bill 3801 would provide retention bonuses of $4,000 per year, for two consecutive years to teachers who are National Board Certified who are employed in hard-to-staff schools.
“Without enough qualified teachers in our classrooms, we cannot provide our children with the education they deserve,” said Sen. Christopher Belt (D-Swansea). “We need to invest in our educators and prioritize the education of our youth, as they are the future of Illinois.”
House Bill 1291 would increase the annual pay cap from $1,500 to $2,250 for teachers with National Board for Professional Teaching Standards designations who mentor or provide professional development for classroom teachers or counselors.
Additional proposals would lower the standards of testing for new hires by extending the suspension of a test that many education experts said is not necessary.
It is called the edTPA test, being used to test a potential teacher’s knowledge base before they get a job.
Governor JB Pritzker temporarily ended the requirement during the pandemic. This new bill would extend the suspension, which is set to end this year.
Illinois has also introduced a new initiative this year, 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.
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.
Gov. 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.