Many states are dealing with teacher shortages, but the problem in Illinois is escalating, and the southern part of the state is taking the hardest hit. There are several factors including low starting salary and fewer college students becoming teachers.
Ultimately, fewer and fewer qualified teachers are ready to go to work in Illinois, and fewer teachers mean fewer classes can be offered.
“This seems to go back years ago and unfortunately it’s like they waited until they saw the effects,” says Mt. Carmel High School principal Jake Newkirk.
A recent study shows 92% of school districts in Southern Illinois are having trouble filling positions with qualified applicants. Newkirk says good teachers in foreign language, math, science, and vocational classes are tough to find.
“When I say teachers are difficult to find, it’s maybe not that a person is difficult to find, but someone you want teaching our students that’s qualified that has the knowledge, and that has the demeanor. That’s probably the bigger issue,” says Newkirk.
In 2018, 20% of all teacher opening across Illinois were never filled which led to more than 200 classes to be canceled across the state.
Mt. Carmel High School says over the years they stopped offering Latin and French classes, and they recently had a hard time finding a science teacher.
“It did take us a semester to find a biology teacher,” says Newkirk. “We filled that with a sub for a while.”
A bill that would raise the minimum salary to $40,000 passed through the state house earlier this month.
“Any type of incentive, benefits, pay that you can offer someone, the more attractive the job becomes,” says Newkirk.
A similar bill passed through both houses of the General Assembly last year but was vetoed by former Governor Bruce Rauner.
“Overall we’ve been fortunate here,” says Newkirk. “Talking to local principals I know there’s a network where they call and say, ‘Hey do you know of any Spanish teachers?'”
Senate bill 1584 was also recently introduced. This bill would allow retired teachers to work as substitutes for a portion of the school year without cutting their pension.