Illinois school districts continue to report teacher shortages

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By Kevin Bessler | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – School districts across Illinois continue to sound the alarm on the shortage of teachers.

The annual Educator Shortage Survey by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools found that 77% of the districts in the state are short of teachers.

“This year, not surprisingly, the numbers continue to be dramatic if not drastic and we are very, very concerned,” President Mark Klaisner said. “The crisis continues and in fact is worsening.”

Eighty-six percent of respondents believe that the situation will worsen over the next two academic years. Districts continue to struggle to fill vacancies. The study indicates the teacher shortage led to more than 250 classes in schools being canceled around the state.

Klaisner said a number of factors have discouraged young adults from entering into the profession, including changes in the state’s pension system and the occasional villainizing of teachers.

“The work is harder, the years are longer, the days are longer, the compensation’s not keeping up with the economy,” Klaisner said.

The district that responded to the survey reported a combined total of 938 open teaching positions, 17% of the over 5,400 positions that districts were looking to fill, were either unfilled or filled by a person who was not certified in that subject area or grade level.

The Golden Apple Accelerator Program will train teachers in 15 months for central, western and southern Illinois communities in hopes candidates will fill teaching vacancies and settle down. Accelerators is a teacher residency program that expands the teacher pipeline by targeting seniors in college who are not currently education majors as well as career changers with bachelor’s degrees who would like to become teachers.

President Alan Mather said there were 1,800 vacancies this year and the pandemic may only worsen the state’s teacher shortage.

“With COVID, we are uncertain what’s going to happen with the teacher profession, and certainly some of the surveys that have been done have shown that the teacher shortage is going to be exacerbated,” Mather said.

The shortage of substitute teachers is even worse, as a whopping 93% of school districts reported a shortage.

Rural school districts in Illinois feel they are at a disadvantage in the recruitment of teachers. Fifty-three percent believe their geographic location hurts their ability to attract educators.

On Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that he said expands access, equity and opportunity in Illinois’ education system. The legislation makes college education more affordable, invests in vocational training, and will expand the teacher workforce.

The study includes proposals to remedy the shortage, including the development of statewide incentives and education pipeline programs. The state also is offering a program that qualifies potential teachers on the fast track and including a phased-in boost of the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 a year.

Even with incentives and changes to the certification program, school administrators are not very optimistic about the future, as 86% of respondents believe that the situation will worsen over the next two academic years.

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