Teacher and staff shortages exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic are making it harder for Illinois school districts to find qualified teachers — especially for special education and bilingual positions, according to a new survey.
Among Illinois principals from 690 school districts surveyed, 73% say they have a teacher shortage problem, 93% say the shortage is as bad or worse than last year, 95% say they receive the same or fewer applicants for vacancies, and 92% say they have a substitute teacher program. School leaders have also said that those who apply for vacancies are not qualified for the job.
The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools partnered with Goshen Education Consulting for the sixth annual Educator Shortage Study, which was conducted in the fall of 2022.
In previous years, the survey has focused on the issues schools face hiring and retaining educators and support staff while understanding which positions and geographies have experienced the most shortages. This year, the study asked school leaders what state officials could do to help schools increase enrollment.
Statewide, the study found that 2,728 teaching, special education and support staff positions were either vacant or filled by someone less qualified. As schools in Illinois struggled to fill positions, cities and rural areas, especially in east-central and west-central Illinois, had more vacancies.
John Meixner, regional superintendent of the 26 Regional Office of Education, said his office supports small districts in rural communities in west-central Illinois. The report reflects what he’s seen on the ground, Meixner said, noting that one of the biggest issues for the school districts his office serves is finding candidates for open positions.
“I would say 10 to 15 years ago, if an opening happened in an elementary teaching position, a school district would have 20 applicants,” Meixner said. “Now they are lucky to have maybe two. There are positions where they don’t have one.
To fill in the gaps, Meixner said school districts have found retired teachers to come back to the classroom. However, retired teachers can only work for a limited time to maintain their pension. Districts have moved current teachers to different subjects to fill positions, whether they have a license to teach that grade level or content area.
School leaders across the state face similar issues and would like the state to step in to help districts hire more teachers.
The survey found that 68% of school leaders believe that incentivizing teachers to earn additional endorsements will have a positive effect on teacher recruitment and retention. To get students into the teacher pipeline and into classrooms, school leaders have suggested scholarships for students, extra pay for staff in high-need areas like special education and increased funding for pension plans.
Last year, the State Board of Education created a $4 million grant to support teachers seeking bilingual educator endorsement. The state has increased the Illinois Minority Teacher Scholarship, which aims to increase the number of teachers of color and bilingual educators, to $4.2 million.
In addition to a teacher shortage, school districts across the state are facing a shortage of substitute teachers — which has also been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey found that school leaders want state policymakers to allow retired teachers to fill in without hurting their pensions, make it easier to become a substitute teacher, and increase the number of substitute teaching days to 120 every year.
At a Monday press conference, Mark Klaisner, president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, said the state has made investments to address school staffing shortages, but more funding is needed. .
Klaisner and other education advocates are calling on the state to invest $550 million in the state’s evidence-based funding formula ‘to give schools the money they need for development professional for further education”.
“If the minimum base funding goes up, that allows us to pay teachers’ and paraprofessionals’ salaries,” Klaisner said. “It will help keep people where they are and make it a viable profession given income levels.”
Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering state school districts, legislation, special education, and the state Board of Education. Contact Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org.