'We are losing good teachers and staff every single day': Report reiterates pandemic shortages

Teacher and school employee shortages have worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Illinois Education Association's fourth annual State of Education report released Wednesday.

"These last two years have been the most trying years in our educators' lives, and Illinoisans see that and are genuinely concerned about the future of our students and our public schools," association President Kathi Griffin said. "We are losing good teachers and staff every single day. Many of those who haven't left yet are considering leaving."

The bipartisan poll, conducted by Normington-Petts and Next Generation Strategies, surveyed 1,000 Illinois residents in December.

The survey data also show Illinois residents strongly favor an honest teaching of American history in schools, including slavery and racism. They place greater importance on having high-quality public schools than on balancing the state budget and lowering taxes. And they believe teachers and parents should have the biggest say in how schools are run, more than politicians or school administrators.

"Teachers and parents understand the needs of our students the most," Griffin said. "We need to continue to work together to make sure we are creating thoughtful solutions that helps us address the rampant staffing shortages we are seeing in our schools."

Illinois State Board of Education data show there are 4,120 teaching and support staff vacancies across 852 school districts, including 1,703 full-time teaching vacancies. Overall, 88% of districts said they had a shortage of full-time teachers, while 96% said they had a shortage of substitute teachers, according to a recent survey by the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

A majority of state residents surveyed believe funding for schools should increase, and teachers and education support personnel are not paid enough. Survey highlights include:

• 72% agree with changes to the Tier 2 pension system that would help teachers forced to work until age 67 collect from the retirement system.

• 77% support student loan forgiveness for those working in education.

• 74% support a minimum wage for adjunct professors.

• 72% support mental health days for educators.

"They're burned out, not making enough money and don't feel respected as educators," Griffin said. "This is not just about K-12 either; our higher educators are impacted, too."

The survey also asked participants about critical race theory: 46% of respondents said they would "strongly favor" or "somewhat favor" a state law banning it being taught in public schools.

Originating in the 1970s, the theory is an academic examination of social, cultural and legal issues regarding race and racism in the United States. The framework's basic tenet is that racism is more than individual prejudices and biases; it is embedded within economic and political systems and institutions, perpetuating racial inequities in health care, education and criminal justice.

Griffin said critical race theory has become a divisive topic in education, even though it typically is an advanced course for those studying law and is not taught in K-12 schools.

In related results, 82% of the survey's respondents favor education about slavery, and 65% favor lessons on racism.

The 135,000-member Illinois Education Association is the state's largest union representing prekindergarten through 12th-grade teachers, education support personnel, higher-education faculty, retired education employees and student teachers.

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