Teacher shortage 'is real, large, and growing'

State Sen. Manar moves package including hike in minimum salary to $40K

Like much of the nation, Illinois is reporting a teacher shortage. (Shutterstock)

Like much of the nation, Illinois is reporting a teacher shortage. (Shutterstock)

By Ted Cox

“The teacher shortage is real, large, and growing,” according to a national study released Tuesday by the Economic Policy Institute.

Late last week, state Sen. Andy Manar passed a package of bills on to the House intended to address the issue, after finding that “Illinois’s teaching shortage is more profound in rural and downstate communities,” such as his own hometown of Bunker Hill south of Springfield.

Manar’s office cited a recent report by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, which found “85 percent of schools surveyed are experiencing difficulty filling teacher positions — up from 78 percent in 2017.” It added, “The shortage is worse in central and southern Illinois.”

Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin confirmed that, adding that — while teachers certainly feel it — “obviously the students are impacted the most,” in the form of larger class sizes, fewer classes offered, and a reduction in extracurricular activities.

The national EPI report, “U.S. Schools Struggle to Hire and Retain Teachers,” is the second in its recent series on “The Perfect Storm in the Teacher Labor Market.” It finds that “the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most from the shortage of credentialed teachers.”

It finds that 13.8 percent of teachers are leaving their schools or abandoning the profession altogether, and that the number of U.S. schools that tried to fill a vacancy but couldn’t tripled in the four years from the 2011-12 school year to 2015-16, rising from 3.1 percent to 9.4 percent. Over the same time span, “schools that found it very difficult to fill a vacancy nearly doubled,” from 19.7 to 36.2 percent.

The study added that, over the seven years before the 2015-16 school year, “there was a 15.4 percent drop in the number of education degrees awarded and a 27.4 percent drop in the number of people who completed a teacher-preparation program.”

It estimated that U.S. schools were short about 110,000 teachers last year, during the 2017-18 school year, after there was no shortage reported as recently as 2013. It called on schools, districts, and state legislatures to “tackle the working conditions and other factors that are prompting teachers to quit and dissuading people from entering the profession, thus making it harder for school districts to retain and attract highly qualified teachers.” Included among those problems was “low pay, a challenging school environment, and weak professional-development support and recognition.”

Last week, Manar succeeded in passing Senate Bill 10 on to the House. It would call on the state to hike its minimum teacher salary to $40,000 in incremental steps by the 2023-24 school year. Manar’s office pointed out in a news release that “current state law mandates a minimum salary of only $10,000 for teachers with bachelor’s degrees,” and that law has stood since 1980. Former Gov. Rauner vetoed a similar bill last year.

“We have a critical shortage of teachers in Illinois, and the minimum salary we offer them is a key factor in being able to attract more young teachers into the profession,” Manar said in a statement. He called it “a reasonable, incremental plan to address the shortage.”


“We have a critical shortage of teachers in Illinois, and the minimum salary we offer them is a key factor in being able to attract more young teachers into the profession.”

State Sen. Andy Manar (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Griffin said the shortage was the longterm effect of prolonged stagnant entry wages for teachers. With pay lower than positions in the private sector, and many teachers forced to work extra jobs to make ends meet, she said many students graduating from high school and entering college decline to go into teaching — even though they find the field inspiring — because the pay is insufficient.

Student polling found “the No. 1 reason they did not enroll in education is because of the salary,” she said. So the increase in the minimum wage is intended not just to give adequate compensation for teachers now, but to encourage teens to become the teachers who will be needed in the years ahead.

The EPI study called for additional measures to be taken in poor school districts, and SB10 addressed that, calling for a new professional review panel established under Manar’s “evidence-based school funding formula overhaul” to offer “recommendations to lawmakers for how to help underfunded school districts cover costs” associated with the hike in the minimum teacher salary.

“Professional educators should not be living below the poverty level,” Manar said, “but that’s exactly what’s happening in communities all over the state.”

Earlier in the week, Manar passed a package of reforms through the Senate, including raising the cap on teacher wage increases to 6 percent, after it was dropped to 3 percent in a bill Rauner signed into law last year. It would also create “a refund program for teachers in underfunded, hard-to-staff school districts to recoup the cost of the teacher performance assessment,” and it “removes the requirement that teachers must pass a basic skills test to be licensed,” in order to streamline the hiring process.

Calling it “a necessary step,” Manar said, “We have to continue making changes to the things that are detrimental to the teaching profession and are driving would-be teachers to other states.”

Griffin cheered passage of the bill in the Senate, and pointed to the bipartisan support behind hit. She said Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington voted in favor, telling her, “It was the right thing to do.”

According to Griffin, if the measures pass the House they’re all but certain to be signed into law by Gov. Pritzker.

“The governor is so pro-education,” she said. “And he knows that there is a shortage of teachers. He knows the negative impact that has on children.”