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Pritzker signs measures aimed at easing ongoing teacher shortage

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SPRINGFIELD - Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Illinois is on a “trajectory to overcome” a shortage of qualified teachers that will be further spurred with measures to increase the pool of substitutes and remove barriers for new and returning educators that he signed into law Wednesday.

The new laws lower the minimum age to become a paraprofessional in pre-K through eighth grade classrooms by one year, to 18; reduce the reinstatement fee for lapsed teaching licenses from $500 to $50; allow college students in education programs to apply for substitute teaching licenses if they have at least 90 credit hours; and triple the time short-term substitutes can spend in a single classroom, to 15 days, during periods when the state is under a disaster declaration.

Such efforts are a continuation of laws passed earlier in Pritzker’s tenure to address the crisis of teacher vacancies that including raising the minimum salary for teachers to $40,000 by the 2023-24 school year.

“In this fight for our children’s futures, school districts should know they’re far from alone,” said Pritzker, who signed the bills at Springfield High School. “We are continuing to find new ways to bring more help into our classrooms so that all students can get the education that they deserve.”

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker after he signed the fiscal year 2023 budget at Chicago State University on April 19, 2022.

Despite hiring 5,600 teachers across the state this school year, the greatest number of hires on record, more than 2,100 teaching positions remain unfilled, State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said at Wednesday’s bill-signing.

Those vacancies are “concentrated in hard-to-staff schools and subjects,” disparately affecting low-income, bilingual and special education students, Ayala said. An additional 2,400 paraprofessional openings are also vacant, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

“As we look forward, we must continue to root our efforts to strengthen the teaching profession in equity,” Ayala said. “Not all schools and not all students are experiencing teacher staffing issues in the same way.”

State Rep. Sue Scherer, a former teacher who sponsored parts of the legislative package, said the new laws will “make a difference” in classrooms even before the current school year ends. The expansion to allow short-term substitutes to spend 15 consecutive days in a classroom, rather than just five, is effective immediately, as is the reduced license reinstatement fee.

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“So many politicians will say education is important, but then when you get to the backroom deals and it’s time to finalize the budget, it’s the first thing cut,” said Scherer, a Decatur Democrat. “It’s heartwarming that people are kind of putting their money where their mouth is.”

Effective Jan. 1 are the laws lowering the paraprofessional age requirement and allowing college students to substitute teach. The measures will allow future teachers to get classroom experience while simultaneously easing the struggle to find people to lead classrooms, lawmakers who sponsored the measures said.

State Sen. Doris Turner, a Springfield Democrat, said she anticipates the new laws will pay dividends for years to come.

“Education is the foundation on which community is built,” Turner said. “We owe it to current students and future generations to pour as much into Illinois educational systems as humanly possible.”

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