New legislation small step in right direction for Illinois teacher shortage

Substitute gym teacher Ken Stauffer, who taught history before he retired, gives Aaron Nash tips on shooting free throws Thursday at Griggsville-Perry High School. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a measure Friday that will make it easier for teachers to transfer an out-of-state teaching license to Illinois. Supporters of the new law say it will help alleviate teacher shortages, particularly in rural areas. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 21, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Jan. 21, 2017 11:42 pm

QUINCY -- Teachers are becoming a precious rare commodity in Illinois.

Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed legislation meant to streamline the process for teachers transitioning into Illinois from other states and encourage such migrations. While administrators in the region praise the measure as a step in the right direction, many are left wondering if procedural deconstruction would not serve as a better marker of progress.

"The new law is a great start, but there are still so many hoops to jump through for a part-time job," said Paula Hawley, Pikeland School District superintendent, of becoming a substitute teacher in Illinois. "There is a huge, lengthy process to get on the (substitute) list."

A news release from the Office of the Governor touts the bill as helping "address Illinois regional teacher shortage and substitute teacher shortage by making it easier to obtain a teaching license if a teacher holds an out-of-state license. In addition, it reduces the fee to obtain a substitute-teaching license and lifts some of the burdens retired teachers faced if they wanted to return to the classroom to sub for a teacher."

While the legislation does expedite the process for teachers entering Illinois with comparable out-of-state licenses, it does little to address the roadblocks to becoming a substitute teacher, most notably among those being the minimum bachelor's degree requirement for all substitutes.

"We have days we go without being able to fill certain substitute positions," said Roy Webb, Quincy Public Schools superintendent. "We support the legislation, but we need to go further in the licensing program."

The stringent requirements for entering the field are likely among the leading causes of a sharp decline in applicants in recent years. As Hawley noted, those with four-year degrees typically have or are seeking full-time positions, rather than substitute positions.

"When I started as an administrator (in 2007), we would have 100 applicants for every position," said Janet Gladu, Griggsville-Perry School District superintendent. "Now, we're lucky if we have five."

A recent survey conducted by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools found 89 percent of school districts in central Illinois reported a decline in candidate applications in recent years. The survey also indicated 51 percent of rural candidates are less qualified than before.

While any sort of legislation that simplifies the process for becoming a teacher is important, Gladu said, "$50 just isn't a lot." Substitute teachers in the Griggsville-Perry School District earn $80 per day.

"Even with new legislation, we still don't compare to other states," Gladu said. "The good thing is, it means, as educators, we are actually being heard."

Carthage School District Superintendent Vicki Hardy said location has also proved to be problematic. As many other states, including Iowa, do not require bachelor's degrees for substitute teachers, Hardy said Carthage is constantly competing with neighboring states to retain substitutes. Like most other rural school districts in the state, Carthage, Griggsville-Perry and Pikeland school districts all rely heavily upon a population of retired teachers residing within the district to fill substitute needs.

"While most regions had difficulties with staffing positions," the survey said, "Central Illinois, in particular, had issues with 75 percent of the respondents indicating they had difficulties."

The survey also revealed that teachers call in more than 16,500 absences each week, and administrators struggle to fill as many as 600 Illinois classrooms daily. Of the districts to respond, 84 percent indicated they have had to cancel classes due to an inability to fill absences.

"This is a tough one. We even struggle to find elementary (teachers)," Hawley said. "That has never been an issue before."

QPS has taken on the task of recruiting teachers, rather than relying on attraction alone, Webb said.

"We also have training so they feel better prepared. It puts their mind at ease," Webb said. "This is a tough but very rewarding profession. It's not an easy job, but you make a difference every day."