Teachers and administrators in Illinois say they’ve been overworked and stressed out attempting to fill vacancies as a result of the state’s persistent teacher shortage. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a slew of bills lawmakers approved during this legislative session to address the issue.
Since the evidence-based financing model was implemented in Illinois in 2018, the Pritzker administration and the State Board of Education report that more than 5,000 new teachers have begun employment in the state. The pay of Illinois teachers has grown steadily in recent years and is expected to climb further in 2021.
There are still over 2,100 open teaching positions in Illinois, and Pritzker is hopeful that new regulations will help remove the obstacles that prevent qualified candidates from applying. Short-term substitute instructors will soon be able to work in a classroom for 15 days straight instead of the previous five.
“These vacancies are concentrated in hard-to-staff schools and subjects,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala. “Our low-income, bilingual and special education students have the least access to the teachers they need to grow and thrive. We also have a severe shortage of substitute teachers and need an additional 2,400 paraprofessionals to fully meet our students’ needs in the classrooms.”
It’s another piece of legislation that reduces the charge for renewing expired teaching licenses from $500 to $50. Retired educators who want to renew their licenses will not be charged a registration fee. Because of a scarcity of instructors, sponsors hope this will help bring in more retirees.
“To teachers in this room and all over the state and potential teachers, I see the hard-earned dollars that you pull from your own pockets to provide school supplies in your classrooms, the after-school hours that you spend with students in your classrooms who need a little extra help, and the food that you bring to make sure that no student in your class goes hungry. And I see you,” Pritzker said. “I want you to know that we are continuing to find new ways to bring more help into our classrooms so that all students can get the education that they deserve.”
Students enrolled in education programs will be able to earn substitute teaching licenses after completing at least 90 credit hours under a separate proposal. One way to increase the number of substitutes available in public schools is to use this method. Seeking the time being, applicants for substitute teaching positions must have a bachelor’s degree or above.
“As a former special education teacher, I know first-hand the difficulties that schools and other teachers face when there is not enough qualified teachers or substitutes in school,” said Sen. Meg Loughran Cappel (D-Shorewood). “Teachers already stress about taking time needed time off when they are sick or when a loved one needs looking after. And adding the struggle to find a qualified substitute teacher on top of that can only make things worse.”
Another bill that has been passed into law reduces the minimum age for paraprofessionals working with children from kindergarten through eighth grade to 18 years old. More suitable candidates may be brought into schools to provide children with more tailored help, say sponsors.
Eleanor Stuckey, a student at Springfield High School, remarked that “experiences like this would not only benefit us in our future vocations but in our preparation programs since soon enough we will be working as student teachers ourselves.”
Short-term replacements may now work for 15 days under new legislation that reduce the registration price. New laws will take effect on January 1, 2023, for the other new legislation.
Sen. Doris Turner said, “Education is the foundation on which a community is built” (D-Springfield). In addition, we owe it to the existing and future students of Illinois to invest as much money as possible in the state’s educational system.