Data from the Illinois State Board of Education shows the increase in classroom vacancies over the past six years. (Capitol News Illinois graphic by Nika Schoonover via Flourish.studio)
State board data shows unfilled class positions hit a five-year high in 2022
By NIKA SCHOONOVER
Illinois Capitol News
SPRINGFIELD — Schools in Illinois are still grappling with a teacher shortage that appears to be getting worse, according to a recent survey by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.
That mirrors the state’s own data, which shows the teacher shortage in Illinois is at the highest level in the past five years. More than 5,300 classroom positions, including administrative and support staff, went unfilled in 2022, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
As a result, teachers often have to absorb unsupervised students into their existing classes or fill subjects in which they have no experience.
“No matter how hard we try, we don’t fill every position and the ones we do fill are people who aren’t necessarily qualified to teach what their assignment is,” said IARSS President Mark Klaisner, in a recent interview.
The IARSS, a trade group for officials who mediate between local school districts and the Illinois State Board of Education, surveyed nearly 700 school districts about the state of the crisis. of the teacher shortage over the past six years. But this year’s survey focused more carefully on short- and long-term solutions offered by school districts statewide.
According to their 2022 survey, 68% of districts reported fewer teacher candidates than the previous year. And 45% of districts reported that the shortage in their school had worsened from the previous year.
Klaisner said everyone involved in education needs to be heard when considering policy changes because teacher recruitment and retention issues have different causes in different parts of the state.
“There are a lot of people working on how to find solutions,” he said. “Part of it is about money, but a lot of it is about restoring the teaching profession and whatever it takes, we have to work with higher education, we have to work with early childhood and everywhere in between. both.”
One area of focus, Klaisner said, is improving the pipeline between educational institutions and Illinois K-12 schools by starting educator recruitment earlier. This could include programs for college students to follow teachers.
Other policy recommendations in the IARSS report include making college more affordable for future educators and increasing the supply of substitute teachers.
Improve the pipeline
The report highlighted the importance of making the teaching profession more attractive to future educators, setting out policy recommendations that would ease financial burdens and encourage greater diversity.
Along with job shadowing programs, he advocated for dual credit programs that allow students to earn college credits while in high school.
“We need to look for fast-track routes that will be cheaper,” Klaisner said.
The report also calls for direct state funding in key areas to encourage greater diversity within the profession. This includes increasing funding from $4.2 million to $7 million per year for the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship; investing more money in the Illinois Teacher Loan Repayment Program, which helps pay off debt for Illinois college students who qualify to teach in low-income areas; and further increasing the state’s monetary rewards program by $50 million.
These MAP grants go to eligible students and do not need to be repaid. While funding for the program has increased to $601 million from around $400 million over the past four years, the report suggests increasing it by $50 million to ensure that more teachers from minority communities receive the subsidies.
To better fill short-term gaps, Klaisner pointed out that teachers should be encouraged to complete additional subject endorsements, which can be done through the ISBE website.
“If you have a good teacher who is willing to try something new, give them the proper approval, but then give them three years to complete the course to be fully certified in that area,” said Klaisner.
By giving teachers the time and space to complete additional endorsements, Klaisner said it will better equip them to fill potential staffing gaps.
Other recommendations include observing how districts have used federal pandemic-era elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds, or ESSER, to help teachers obtain provisional licenses. in shortage materials. Additionally, the survey recommends strengthening the state’s educator preparation programs by showing which pathways have the best results for teacher placement and success.
Several survey respondents also noted that a 2010 state law creating a lower level of retirement benefits for new hires made the teaching profession less desirable from a compensation perspective.
Increase Accessibility of Substitute Teachers
When it comes to filling short-term gaps, the report focused on increasing the supply of substitute teachers.
“When you don’t have enough teachers in the classroom, and you don’t have enough contractors, then you have classrooms that are literally empty. I mean, the kids are in the room. but there is no teacher,” said Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, who also served as a teacher for 34 years in Decatur and Maroa-Forsyth.
Last April, Governor JB Pritzker signed a set of four bills to address the shortage, including House Bill 4798, which allows currently enrolled students to teach with at least 90 credit hours to be licensed as substitute teachers.
According to the survey, 60% of respondents said HB 4798 helped recruit and retain teachers.
Additionally, 80% of districts support a plan that would increase the number of days retired teachers can replace from 120 days to 140 days without affecting their retirement benefits.
The number was increased to 120 from 90 in a bill signed in April, Senate Bill 3893, but it was due to expire in 2023. The idea was backed by 79% of respondents to the IARSS survey, and the report advocated making the extension permanent.
Laws allowing students to serve as substitute teachers are also due to expire, and the report suggests making them permanent as well.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and television stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.