Pritzker signs proposals addressing Illinois teacher shortage

Gov. JB Pritzker celebrates the signing of four bills to address the teacher shortage in...
Gov. JB Pritzker celebrates the signing of four bills to address the teacher shortage in Illinois on April 27, 2022.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 5:11 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Illinois teachers and school administrators say they have been stressed and overworked trying to fill gaps due to the ongoing teacher shortage. Lawmakers passed several plans to address the problem this session, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed them into law Wednesday.

The Pritzker administration and the State Board of Education note that more than 5,000 teachers have started working in Illinois since the evidence-based funding model was enacted in 2018. Illinois teacher salaries have also gradually risen over the past few years with a significant increase in 2021.

Still, there are more than 2,100 vacant teaching jobs in Illinois schools, and Pritzker hopes these laws can address barriers to those jobs. One of the new laws will allow short-term substitute teachers to work 15 consecutive days in a classroom instead of five days.

“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.”

Another piece of legislation is cutting the fees for renewing lapsed teaching licenses from $500 to $50. It will also waive the registration fees for retired teachers who want to renew their licenses. Sponsors say this can help recruit more retired teachers to schools during this shortage.

“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.”

A separate measure will allow college students enrolled in education programs to obtain substitute teaching licenses if they have completed at least 90 credit hours. Some feel this is a great option to boost the number of substitutes available for public schools. Substitute teaching candidates for now must have a bachelor’s degree or higher to be eligible.

“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 proposal signed into law will lower the age requirement for paraprofessionals helping pre-K through eighth grade to 18. Sponsors argue this could bring even more qualified applicants into classrooms to get students the individualized support they need.

“Experiences like these will not only help us in our future careers but in our preparation programs as soon enough we will be serving as student teachers ourselves,” said Eleanor Stuckey, a student at Springfield High School.

The laws lowering the registration fee and allowing short-term substitutes to work for 15 days take effect immediately. Meanwhile, the other new laws will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

“Education is the foundation on which a community is built,” said Sen. Doris Turner (D-Springfield). “And we owe it to current students and future generations to pour as much into Illinois’ educational systems as humanly possible.”

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