JOLIET, Ill. (WLS) -- The ongoing Illinois teacher shortage is top-of-mind throughout Chicago area districts as they kick off the new school year.
Superintendents around the area say the main problem they are encountering is that they simply don't have enough qualified people applying for the positions they have open, most of which appear to be special ed, bilingual and dual-language teachers.
Around 35,000 students returned to the classroom in School District U-46, the second largest in the state, including Elgin as well as 10 other surrounding communities. But even as students begin to shake off the summer cobwebs, many will be taught by substitutes, for now.
"We still have around 100 teacher vacancies," District U-46 Supt. Tony Sanders said. "We're able to fill those. We have retirees. We have long-term subs. We have lots of people to step in to fill those roles."
Most of U-46's vacancies are for dual language and special ed teachers.
It's a similar story in Joliet's Public School District 86, where students will be welcomed back on Wednesday. They are still short about 20 full-time teachers, and the Illinois State Board of Education will only allow districts to use subs for 30 days at a time in a single classroom.
"We may be close to hiring someone but not quite, but we don't want to shuffle the teachers around because it's hard on the students," District 86 Supt. Theresa Rouse said. "So we'd like to see those numbers increased to 60-90 days at least so we have a little more wiggle room."
But subs aren't a permanent fix. And that, according to both of these superintendents, lies in attracting more people into the profession.
"There are fewer and fewer people coming into university programs to become teachers and it's a nationwide crisis at this point," Rouse said.
"The board has set aside millions of dollars for this tuition reimbursement trying to get people to leave their current jobs and come become a teacher," Sanders said. "It's a great way not just to make a living but to make a difference in the lives of children."
According to a study conducted by the Illinois State Board of Education, the current shortage has a disproportionate impact on chronically struggling schools, underfunded schools and schools serving low-income communities, reinforcing the need for equity as steps continue to be taken to increase the teacher pipeline in the state.
Full Statement from Illinois State Board of Education
Thank you for your patience. Like many states across the country, Illinois is currently experiencing a teacher shortage. In the hopes of better understanding this shortage, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) conducted an analysis to understand the specific students and communities most impacted by teacher vacancies. This analysis found that the current shortage has a disproportionate impact on chronically struggling schools, underfunded schools, and schools serving low-income communities, as well as specific subject areas including special education and bilingual education. The data reinforce the importance of equity as the driving strategy for continuing to strengthen the teacher pipeline in Illinois.
To help address the shortage of substitute teachers, ISBE has instituted changes to expand the pipeline for substitute teachers. For example, in addition to any individual with a bachelor's degree, we also now allow those enrolled in an Illinois approved educator preparation program who have completed 90 semester hours of coursework to substitute teach beginning January 1, 2023. We have also waived the $25 application fee during public health emergencies, such as the current covid-19 pandemic, so individuals can get licensed to sub completely for free. Short-term substitutes can also teach up to 15 consecutive days, instead of the usual five, for up to 120 days for school year 2022-23.
The state has also employed several other strategic initiatives, which have proven to be effective in growing the teacher workforce, raising enrollment in educator preparation programs, and increasing teacher retention rates. These initiatives include CTE Education Career Pathways Grants that allow current high school students to prepare for college-level teacher preparation programs, Teacher Residency Grants that increase new educator preparedness and retention by embedding candidates in a school for a full year, the Teacher Mentoring Program which pairs novice teachers with on-site mentors and virtual instructional coaches to help guide them through their first years of teaching, adding Educators Rising as a Career and Technical Student Organization to provide leadership opportunities to aspiring teachers in high school, Short-Term Approvals that increase access to teacher preparation programs by allowing candidates to earn their license while teaching, grants to support special education teacher retention and bilingual educator licensure, and affinity groups for teachers of color to boost retention rates.
As a result of these initiatives, and others, the teacher workforce in Illinois has grown year-over-year since 2018, adding more than 5,000 new teachers to the profession. The state also saw an 11 percent increase in enrollment in educator preparation programs between 2019 and 2020, and last year teacher retention rates rose to over 87 percent, the highest since 2014.