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New Study Shows Illinois Teacher Shortage Far From Over

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Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents President Mark Klaisner says Illinois is dealing with a "crisis" when it comes to the state's teacher shortage.

A new study shows Illinois is still struggling with a teacher shortage as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. 

The Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents (IARSS) conducted the study. The results show 77% of the superintendents who responded said they are dealing with a teacher shortage. With regard to substitute teacher shortages specifically, the number goes up to 93%.

Association President Mark Klaisner said the problem is particularly pronounced in rural areas.

"I had a superintendent from a rural setting say, 'If I lose one of my math teachers, that's half of my math department,'" said Klaisner. "In large high schools in more populous areas, the math department might be 20 teachers or 30 teachers, and so losing one proportionally hits our rural settings much worse."

County-by-county data from the survey shows Mason County to be one of the counties most affected by teacher shortages. By comparison, McLean and Tazewell counties reported minor problems with teacher shortages, on average.

Overall, Klaisner said the COVID pandemic has only made the situation worse.

"If we're looking at the pipeline down the road, we see teachers retiring, we hear teachers that may not be coming back because of health scares this year, and our pipeline is not ramping up very quickly to fill those vacancies," said Klaisner.

Districts are struggling to fill vacancies. The study indicates the teacher shortage led to more than 250 classes in schools across the state being canceled. Klaisner says even before the pandemic, schools were taking measures to fill in those gaps, such as larger PE classes and study halls with more students. 

"If you can cluster large numbers of kids, then you don't need as many teachers," said Klaisner. "We know that's not ideal for kids, and it's not ideal for learning. It's just a matter of, you know, kids deserve the best education we can provide."

Klaisner said a number of factors have discouraged young people from going into the profession, including the villainizing of teachers and the reform of the state's pension system.

"The work is harder, the years are longer, the days are longer, the compensation's not keeping up with the economy," said Klaisner. "It is a lot of work, and we're asked to do more and more with less and less."

He said he wants to do focus groups with high school students in the future to get a better understanding of how young people feel about the teaching profession, and why students do or don't want to become teachers.

"We have to hear the voices of the people who are choosing not to go into the profession," said Klaisner. "What does that mean, and what are we going to do about it?"

As for this year, Klaisner says groups such as IARSS will be lobbying for more money and possible short-term and long-term rule changes. Gov. JB Pritzker's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year holds education spending flat.

"We understand there's not unlimited revenue," said Klaisner. "However, you know, as educators, we feel very strongly that we need to be a top priority."

The study includes a number of proposals to remedy the teacher shortage, including the development of statewide incentives and education pipeline programs. Klaisner said there needs to be collaboration among stakeholders to solve the problem.

"What happens with education drives the future of Illinois, and the country in general," said Klaisner. "We really need to be looking to the future with hope, and with promise, and commit to doing whatever it takes to get there."

Some superintendents say it could be years before the crisis is over. 86% of superintendents surveyed said they thought shortages will remain a problem into the 2022-2023 school year.

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