Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a new initiative aimed at alleviating chronic staff shortages across the state. His proposed Teacher Pipeline Grant Program would give $70 million per year over the next three years to 170 school districts with the most needs and teacher vacancies, Pritzker said at a news conference Friday at Streamwood High School.
Those districts represent 80% of the unfilled teaching positions in the state. Filling them would improve the student-teacher ratio for over 871,000 students, Pritzker said.
“When it comes to our kids, we can always do more. And when it comes to our schools, that means not just more funding, but more resources — and most crucially, more educators,” Pritzker said. “All across the nation, school districts are fighting the impact of teacher shortages — as education professionals struggle to weigh their passion for their classrooms with their own mental, financial and personal well-being.”
Pritzker said he wants to bring in new teachers while retaining the current workforce.
“Districts all across Illinois are already using innovative ways to bring people into this profession,” he said. “And we want to help them pay for it and expand what already works.”
Elgin-based District U-46, for example, has more than 60 support staff employees using a “grow your own” program to work toward their teaching credentials.
Upon legislative approval, the teacher pipeline program would allow districts flexibility in how they use the funds, such as offering signing bonuses, housing stipends, down-payment assistance or loan repayments. The money can also be directed toward paying tuition and fees or providing residencies or apprenticeships, as well as sustaining current teachers by providing materials, supplies, coaching and school culture supports.
Recent ISBE data points to 3,558 unfilled teaching positions across Illinois as of October. Pritzker said the vacancies are concentrated in under-resourced schools.
Pritzker was joined by new State Superintendent Tony Sanders, who returned to U-46 Friday in his first official appearance since beginning his tenure as head of ISBE a week ago. For nearly a decade, Sanders served as superintendent of U-46.
“The experience of teaching is incredible,” Sanders said. “It’s not teaching itself that’s causing a teacher shortage; it is the systemic inequities present in our most under-resourced districts. The Teacher Pipeline Grant Program provides these districts with the resources they need to solve local challenges to recruitment and retention and remove barriers preventing aspiring educators from pursuing the calling to teach.”
State Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago, said she hopes the program will expand opportunities for more diverse educators.
“It is important for students to see themselves reflected in their teachers by their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or by other relevant identifiers,” Villa said Friday at Streamwood High School. “As a former social worker, I know firsthand that students come to school with a wide array of different struggles, and having teachers who can relate through lived experiences can improve our children’s education experience.”
Illinois’ 2021-2022 Report Card shows that 81% of teachers in the state identify as white, whereas 47% of public school students are white.
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Out of 134,888 total teachers, 6% are Black, 8% are Hispanic, 1.8% are Asian and 0.2% identify as American Indian, according to the most recent data.
Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery discussed the real-world consequences a lack of teachers creates.
“The shortage of teachers and staff is real,” Montgomery said Friday. “In Illinois, there are classrooms right now where there is no teacher in the room — students might be sitting in a gym, in a room, in the library, in front of a television (or) in front of an adult who isn’t qualified or certified to teach the subject.”
Montgomery added that teachers often are asked to cover other classrooms, which means they’re left with little or no time to prepare for their own classes. For communities with a more dire need, those scenarios exacerbate the stress and difficulty of trying to provide students with appropriate grade-level education, he said.
ISBE said the state will also use $6 million in federal funds to hire an advertising and marketing firm to develop and implement a statewide teacher recruitment campaign.
The proposed $70 million would need to be approved as part of the state budget for the budget year that begins July 1 and would need to be approved again in each of the following two years.