Governor signs law to ease teacher shortage
By Jim Vail
Special to News-Star
Special to News-Star
One of the biggest problems for schools is the shortage of teachers in classrooms and the governor took a step to fight this by signing a bill that will change license requirements to make it easier for out-of-state, retired and substitute teachers to get certified to teach in Illinois.
There is a growing shortage of teachers in the state with one in five Illinois teaching positions going unfilled due to licensure requirements, according to the governor’s office.
Nowhere is this more true than in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) where schools are left with vacant teaching positions during the school year. This has a ripple effect, where the difficulty of finding a substitute teacher compounds the problem and forces classes for special education, bilingual or music and art to be cancelled so that these teachers within the building can temporarily fill in the vacancies.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has filed numerous grievances against violations of the contract because teachers who have to sub do not get their allotted time to prepare their lessons (full disclosure: I’m a CTU member and CPS teacher). This has led to deteriorating morale and frustration all around.
There are many reasons why there is a teacher shortage in this state beyond the licensing requirements. Schools in rough neighborhoods are tough to staff because of student behavior problems and the onslaught of corporate America’s Common Core curriculum attacked teachers and made the profession much more onerous. Education schools have reported significant drops in enrollment due to the education reform movement’s attack on public education.
Chicago schools on the North Side as well as the South Side have huge problems finding substitute teachers. One principal thought CPS did not do enough to recruit subs who a few years ago had to be fully-certified teachers, whereas now they just need a bachelor’s degree, as it was when I first started subbing 15 years ago.
However, according to the new requirements in HB5627, a substitute teacher will only need an associate’s degree (two years of college classes), similar to what a teacher aid needs to work in the Chicago public schools.
The new law will address the teaching shortage crisis by creating a “Short Term Substitute Teaching License” so people with either an associate degree or 60 college credit hours can substitute teach, providing reciprocity for comparable and valid educator licenses from other states (currently there are only certain states where teachers have the requirements to teach in Illinois), allowing teachers whose Professional Educator’s License lapsed to qualify for a substitute teaching license and increasing to 120 the number of days retired teachers can substitute teach without affecting their retirement benefits.
“We cannot deliver great education without great teachers,” said Gov. Bruce Rauner. “A majority of our school districts are reporting shortages, and it is unacceptable. Modernizing our licensing systems is a strong first step to that ought to help schools attract high-quality, transformative teachers for our students.”
However, another reason for teacher shortages is teacher pay, and the governor whacked teachers by backing the recent Janus Supreme Court decision which no longer allows unions to automatically collect every member’s dues. Teacher unions could lose a significant number of members which would impair their work to collectively bargain for higher wages and benefits, and thus attract the top candidates to teach in the schools. One teacher in Wisconsin noted that after the state became a ‘Right to Work’ state which limited the unions’ power, health benefits increased to $800 per month, significantly cutting their take-home pay.
According to a 2017 Teacher Shortage Survey developed by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS) and analyzed by Goshen Education Consulting, 78% of the districts surveyed identified either a minor or serious problem with teacher shortages. Over half (53%) of the surveyed districts indicated that they have a serious problem with substitute teacher shortages.
“We have a statewide teacher shortage and this measure will help address it by making it easier to substitute teach,” State Senator Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood) said in a press release. “Readily-available substitute teachers give full-time educators a support system when they are sick or need time off. Most importantly, this measure helps our schools provide the best educational experience for our children.”
In April the IL Senate fast-tracked (versus slow-tract the Elected School Board bill that even though overwhelmingly passed both Houses sits bundled up in a committee) a bill to privatize substitute teaching staffing, which the CTU opposed, in an apparent attempt to address the substitute shortage problem.
“This legislation is tone deaf given CPS’ disastrous track record with privatization,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said in a press statement. “It will allow CPS to contract out classroom-critical services, likely for less pay – just as has been the experience of privatized charter teachers and janitors in CPS – to the detriment of our students. And it will cost. In Indianapolis, the contracting agency slapped a 36% fee on the cost of substitute positions. The bill also fails to address the root causes of a shortage of substitute and full-time teachers – their need for a living wage and decent working conditions.”
A teacher at Acero (formerly UNO) Charter School which uses a staffing agency to assign subs, reported that the agency was ineffective and the school still suffers from a shortage of subs.