A study has uncovered an acute shortage of teachers in parts of central and southern Illinois, leading to canceled classes, increasing class sizes, and substitute teachers or administrators taking on larger teaching roles.
The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools surveyed 500 school districts and found that 89 percent of districts in central Illinois have trouble filling teaching positions with qualified candidates, The State Journal-Register reported. Southern Illinois fared worse, with 92 percent having issues staffing open positions.
Mark Jontry, the association's president, blamed the shortage on low salaries for new teachers, teacher evaluations pushing people out of the industry and fewer student teachers passing tests to acquire a teaching license.
Districts reported having to cancel classes or programs because of the lack of staff or turning to online classes. The shortage is also especially affecting the number of school psychologists, library specialists, foreign language teachers and instructors for blind or deaf students.
Young educators are more attracted to Chicago and surrounding areas for certain quality-of-life aspects, said Jeff Vose, the regional superintendent for Sangamon and Menard counties. The salaries also tend to be higher in Chicago's suburbs, he said.
"Trying to attract young educators to smaller, rural communities seems to be one of the most challenging things in the state," Vose said.
Schools in the region are often asking substitutes to take on longer assignments, increasing class sizes or having administrators teach classes, he said.
"Teachers are spread thin," Vose said.
Peoria Public Schools is conducting virtual job fairs and expanding recruitment at universities, but ending the shortage will take a statewide effort, said Beth Crider, the regional superintendent of Peoria County.
"The ultimate battle is this: how do you reduce barriers for people to become teachers, but not reduce the quality of teacher candidates in the classroom?" she said.
Democratic Sen. Andy Manar is sponsoring a bill that would increase the minimum wage for teachers to $40,000 by the 2023-2024 school year. He said other possible solutions include creating a loan forgiveness program that would incentivize teacher to go to underfunded districts and making it cheaper to get a teaching license.
"We have a severe shortage of teachers in downstate Illinois," he said. "That problem's not going to change by wishing it away."