Unfilled classroom positions in Illinois reached a five-year high in 2022
SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois schools are still grappling with a teacher shortage that seems to be only getting worse, a recent survey by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools shows.
This mirrors the state's own data, which shows Illinois' teacher shortage is at the highest level in the last five years. More than 5,300 classroom positions, including administrative and support personnel, went unfilled in 2022, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
As a result, teachers often have to absorb unsupervised students into their existing classes or fill in for subject areas in which they have no background.
"No matter how much we're trying, we're not filling all the positions, and the ones we are filling are people who aren't necessarily qualified to teach what their assignment is," Mark Klaisner, president of the superintendents group, said in a recent interview.
The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools has surveyed nearly 700 school districts on the state of the teacher shortage crisis for the past six years. But this year's survey focused more intently on short- and long-term solutions proposed by school districts statewide.
According to their 2022 survey, 68% of districts reported fewer teacher applicants than the year before. And 45% of districts reported the shortage in their school had worsened from the year prior.
Klaisner said everyone involved in education needs to be heard when considering policy changes, as problems with teacher recruitment and retention have different mixes of causes in different parts of the state.
"There are lots of people working on how to come to solutions," he said. "Some of it is related to money, but a lot is related to re-establishing the teaching profession, and whatever that takes, we need to work with higher ed, we need to work with early childhood and everywhere in between."
One area of focus, Klaisner said, is improving the pipeline between education institutions and Illinois' K-12 schools by starting educator recruitment earlier. That could include programs that allow middle schoolers to shadow teachers.
Other policy recommendations in the report include making college more affordable for prospective educators and increasing the pool of substitute teachers.
Improving the pipeline
The report emphasized the importance of making the teaching profession more desirable, outlining policy recommendations that would lessen financial burdens and encourage greater diversity.
Along with job shadowing programs, he advocated for dual credit programs that allow students to earn some college credit while in high school.
"We need to look for expedited routes that are going to be less expensive," Klaisner said.
The report also calls for direct state funding to key areas to encourage more diversity within the profession. This includes increasing funding to $7 million from $4.2 million annually for the Minority Teachers of Illinois scholarship; investing more money into the Illinois Teachers Loan Repayment Program, which helps pay down student loan debt for Illinois college students that qualify to teach in low-income areas; and further increasing the state's Monetary Award Program by $50 million.
Those MAP grants go to eligible college students and do not need to be repaid. While the program's funding has grown to $601 million from about $400 million in the past four years, the report suggested increasing it again will ensure more teachers from minority communities will receive the grants.
To better fill gaps in the short term, Klaisner pointed to giving teachers incentives to complete additional subject endorsements, which can be done through the state board of education website.
"If you've got a good teacher who's willing to try something new, give them the appropriate endorsement, but then give them three years to be able to complete the coursework to be fully certified in that area," Klaisner said.
By giving teachers the time and space to complete supplemental endorsements, Klaisner said it will better equip them to fill in potential staffing gaps.
Other recommendations include observing how districts have used federal pandemic-era Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to help teachers get provisional licenses in shortage subject areas. Additionally, the survey recommends strengthening the state's educator prep programs by showing which paths have stronger results in teacher placement and success.
Several survey respondents also noted that a 2010 state law creating a lower tier of pension benefits for new employees has made the teaching profession less desirable from a compensation standpoint.