Regional superintendents address Illinois teacher shortage | Govt-and-politics

Regional superintendents address Illinois teacher shortage

A billboard located along Illinois State route 15 in Centreville, Illinois, advertises for teachers for East St. Louis School District 189. 

SPRINGFIELD – Following a February survey of school districts that illustrated a persistent teacher shortage in the state, the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools has released policy recommendations calling for better benefits and more lenient certification in an effort to reverse the trend.

The IARSS, which serves as an intermediary between local school districts and the Illinois State Board of Education, had the survey conducted between September and October to see how school districts were faring with the supply of professional and substitute teachers during the 2020-21 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Illinois was split into seven regions for the purpose of the survey, and school districts reported the shortage was worst in west central and southeastern Illinois.

White papers developed in response to the survey give seven policy recommendations as ways to combat it from the local to statewide level. The two primary methods discussed in the white paper are improving teacher pay and lessening the restrictions on certifications teachers need in order to get hired.


When it comes to compensation, it’s not as simple as just increasing teachers’ salaries, according to IARSS President Mark Klaisner.

“One of the misnomers has been that you can just throw money at salary,” Klaisner said in an interview with Capitol News Illinois.

It was just two years ago that Illinois passed a law raising teacher pay, with a mandated minimum of $40,000 by the 2023 school year. Representatives of the IARSS filed witness slips in opposition to the minimum wage increase during committee hearings on the matter in 2019.

While Klaisner said that action was taken in an effort to address the teacher shortage, he believes it actually had the opposite effect in many places, particularly in the rural, less affluent regions of the state.

“Unfortunately, small school districts were reporting to me, that didn’t solve a problem it caused a problem, because if I have to pay a minimum of ($40,000), I’m going to let a couple teachers go so I have money to meet the 40 threshold,” Klaisner said. “Now my class sizes go up, so education’s not better. All I’ve done is I’ve moved a problem from one column to the other column.”

According to Klaisner, without additional funding, schools in rural areas have to make the difficult choice between offering a lower relative salary – which makes them less competitive than their metro counterparts – and cutting some positions to add the difference to core positions to attract applicants.

The National Education Association lists the state’s average teacher salary at $68,000, and the average starting salary at $40,484. But in the most rural and underserved areas of the state, particularly in the west central and southeastern regions, open positions offer the state’s bare minimum, which is increasing from $32,000 in the current school year to just under $35,000 for the 2021-22 school year starting in August.

“We know there’s certain sectors of the state that’s suffering more than others,” John Meixner, a regional superintendent who oversees Fulton, Hancock, McDonough and Schuyler counties said in a podcast on education.

“A normal teaching position opens up and an applicant pool up in (Cook County) may have, instead of 150 applicants you might only have 20, whereas instead of having 10 we have zero,” he added. “I mean literally we’ve had positions, dozens of positions where zero applicants apply.”

Longstanding problems with the Teachers Retirement System – the pension plan for all Illinois public school teachers outside of the Chicago Public Schools district – have also served as a barrier to attracting applicants to the profession.

The Tier II retirement system available to those hired after 2010 requires teachers work until they are 67 years old to receive full benefits. It also provides less compensation in retirement as their contribution to the plan also works to pay down the unfunded liability of teachers enrolled in the previous pension plan.

On the salary front, IARSS is recommending school districts lobby the state to approve state-funded loan forgiveness programs for teachers who take jobs in underserved areas, as well as experiment with signing bonuses to attract new applicants.

The IARSS also recommends amending the pension plan to allow teachers to retire at 55 years of age for reduced rates.


Currently, becoming a teacher in Illinois requires a Professional Educator License. To receive one, a prospective teacher requires at least a bachelor’s degree, student teaching experience, the completion of a state-approved teaching program and a licensing test.

Licensing tests are split into several grade levels, and teachers certified in one grade level are not considered suitable for hire under a different grade level unless they successfully pass a license exam for that as well.

An educator certified for early childhood can hold a position teaching from birth to grade 2, while an elementary certified educator can teach from grade 1 to 6, and a middle grades educator from grades 5 to 8.

During the pandemic, ISBE, in conjunction with the Illinois Community College Board and Illinois Board of Higher Education, granted endorsement waivers as part of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s emergency order to allow schools to fill positions with teachers certified for grade levels or subjects other than the ones they were hired to teach.

IARSS recommends continuing this practice as a temporary measure as well as auditing whether current licensing restrictions are unnecessary or have exacerbated shortages.

For endorsement areas with a high rate of unfilled positions, such as special education, mathematics and school psychologists, IARSS has recommended ISBE look at increasing funding for higher education programs offering certificates in those fields, as well as creating pipelines to transition students from rural school districts to nearby colleges to become teachers in short-staffed positions.

Education budget

After initially keeping funding for K-12 education flat at about $8.8 billion for the fiscal year in his initial February budget proposal for the 2022 fiscal year, Pritzker reversed course earlier this month and announced he was calling for $350 million to be added to the budget for education.

That’s in line with the evidence-based school funding model of 2017, which calls for that amount of money to be added to the formula each year.

Education advocates, including bipartisan members of the General Assembly, have strongly praised the evidence-based funding model, which allocates state dollars to districts according to the gap between them and what the state considers to be a required level of adequacy. Each district’s adequacy target is determined by a school district’s ability to fund proper staffing, student resources and moderate class sizes, among other factors.

Klaisner suggested the state should use that evidence-based formula to distribute federal COVID-19 stimulus dollars, including around $5 billion for education received as part of the American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden. Pritzker, as well as the U.S. Department of Education, has placed parameters on how funding should be spent, and both have strongly discouraged using the stimulus money to pay salaries.

So far, school districts have used the stimulus money they have received in ways as varied as the school districts themselves. According to Klaisner, one school district used what he called “flash in the pan money” – one time funds that should be used for one-time expenditures and not long-term costs like teacher salary – to replace its decade-old fleet of buses.

In Collinsville, a city of under 30,000 in the Metro East region near St. Louis, the school district used $300,000 in stimulus funds to construct a broadband tower, creating a private network to provide high-speed internet access to underserved students and their families throughout the school district.

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Ongoing inequities

While an analysis shows the teacher shortage has actually improved over the last four years, particularly in suburban and urban parts of the state, there continues to be a great disparity in the availability of teachers between rural and metropolitan regions.

A post-survey analysis by the IARSS shows geographic location was the number one factor negatively impacting recruitment, ahead of salary and pension. Over 50% of school districts said their geographic location had a negative impact.

In 2019, Cook County and surrounding collar counties had 240 unfilled or underfilled positions, while that number was 228 for the west central region. By 2020, Cook County had reduced that figure to just 91, while the west central region had 257 unfilled positions.

The disparities also exist along racial lines. When controlling for the size of the district, the IARSS analysis found that the racial makeup of the student body – even more than location – was the number one predictor of whether positions in that district would be underfilled or have below-average retention rates for staff.

The higher the proportion of white students a school district had, the fewer underfilled positions.

The analysis also concluded that there was no association between vacancies and the proportion of low-income students, and that racial demographics were also a greater factor than the proportion of English-learning or English-as-a-second-language students.

Klaisner noted that research shows students who belong to an ethnic or racial minority benefit when at least one of their instructors belong to the same racial or ethnic group as them.

“We see all over the state, the demographics are very clear that oftentimes our staffs don’t represent the students that they serve, and we feel like that would be a value add, if not essential,” he said, pointing to policies like minority teacher grants and ISBE initiatives to recruit teachers of color.

Despite this, the IARSS white paper concluded the most important predictors of success when it came to hiring and retaining staff was educator pay and how close the school district was to a teacher preparation program. Stakeholders should focus on addressing these factors, according to the analysis.

“While districts may not be able to change their geography or student demographics, they do have some control over teacher salaries, and institutions of higher education have some role to play in working to serve the state’s ‘higher education deserts,’” the IARSS said in their report.

PHOTOS: Illinois basketball uniforms through the years


Illinois basketball had been around since the early 1900s, but "Illinois" in all caps didn’t appear on uniforms until 1922. Numbers didn’t appear until 1935. 

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The Lou Henson era brought an interesting style change: Cursive. This was the uniform style from 1975-80.

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Bruce Douglas wearing what became the classic Fighting Illini uniforms of the 1980s.

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Illini 1989 unis.jpg

Kendall Gill and the Flyin’ Illini etched the 1980s uniforms in the minds of Illini fans.

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A return to the all-cap "Illinois" — albeit sanserif this time — made its return in the 2000s and were a good-luck charm in 2005, with a Final Four run.

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It was when the 2005 group wore the orange versions that the look really stood out. Dee Brown’s orange jersey is iconic.

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The 2010s brought alternate jerseys into college basketball. This jersey made its debut in 2011.

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A new look with the jagged side stripe debuted in 2014 and stuck around for three seasons.

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Since the throwbacks have been in style, this is a look — worn here by Malcolm Hill in 2016 — the Illini feature at least once almost every year.

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The Illini had a gray alternate uniform in 2013 and throughout the middle part of the decade.

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Recent years have seen the Illini go with a cleaner look, but it’s still the classic all caps "Illinois."

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The Illini brought this late 1970s look back last year as an alternate.

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Chester Frazier, Shaun Pruitt

Illinois guard Chester Frazier charges down the court with teammate Shaun Pruitt during the second half of the Big Ten basketball tournament against Penn State in Chicago, Thursday, March 8, 2007. Illinois defeated Penn State 66-60. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Nam Y. Huh

Cal State LB vs Illinois NCAA 1993

Cal State Long Beachs Mike Atkinson, right, tries to strip the ball from University of Illinois T.J. Wheeler during first half action in first round NCAA game, Thursday, March 18, 1993, Salt Lake City, Utah. (AP Photo/Jack Smith)

Jack Smith


Wearing a protective nose guard, Michigan’s Chris Webber (4) defends against Illinois Robert Bennett (30) during the first half Saturday night at Chrysler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., January 23, 1993. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)


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via The Quad-City Times

May 18, 2021 at 09:41PM

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