Solving state teacher shortage means addressing pay, pensions, consolidation

·3 min read
Will Buss, Broadcasting and Journalism
Will Buss, Broadcasting and Journalism

The State of Kansas is now hiring teenagers to be substitute teachers.

As the state struggles to hire and fill teacher vacancies to lead kindergarten, grade school, middle school and high school classrooms, the state’s Board of Education has lowered requirements for hiring emergency substitutes. Through June 1, substitute teachers in Kansas do not have to meet the standard requirement of attaining at least 60 semester credit hours from a regionally accredited college or university. For the time being, all an applicant needs are a high school diploma, be at least 18 years old and pass a background check. No degree? No problem, for now.

California leads the nation in the number of open teaching jobs, and the governor has recently issued an executive order through the end of March allowing schools to extend current substitute teacher contracts and has also made it easier for recently retired teachers to return to classrooms.

Teacher shortages have been reported across the country for years. Researchers from the Economic Policy Institute recently investigated this issue further and found that the problem is worse than they initially thought. Last year, the institute found that nationwide teacher shortages have reached 118,000 vacancies. That number and is forecast to increase to 200,000 by 2025.

Teacher shortages in California, Nevada, Washington, Arizona, Indiana, District of Columbia and Hawaii are due to the lack of special education, math, science and language arts teachers. Elementary schools are in need of teachers who can teach core subjects.

The increasing rate of vacancies were ushered in by layoffs during the Great Recession, which forced teachers to leave classrooms across the country. Few applied to replace them, and more teachers have left the education during the pandemic.

In Illinois, public schools were looking for more than 4,100 teachers in the state’s public schools as of last fall. That need has doubled within the past four years.

A recent survey from the Illinois Association of Superintendents of Schools revealed that almost 90 percent of the state’s school districts need teachers. The state has struggled to fill teaching positions for the same reasons as other states, but the state’s soaring salaries and pensions has also contributed to the void.

The Illinois State Board of Education recorded the minimum wage for Illinois teachers was $32,076 for fiscal year 2021, while the average pay for an administrator in this state earned $111,293 during that same time. The Illinois Policy Institute has found that more than 9,000 state administrators make six-figures each year. These administrators lead school districts that have few buildings to oversee. The state has 852 school districts, of which almost half serve just one or two schools. In comparison, Illinois spent $1.27 billion on administrator salaries in 2020 for the state’s 1.9 million K-12 students, while administrators in Florida serve twice as many students for one-fifth of that salary during that time.

These findings indicate Illinois taxpayers are burdened by an excessive number of administrators and an increasing pension debt, while Illinois homeowners pay twice the national average in property taxes to account for these expenditures.

Solving the Land of Lincoln’s teacher shortage will mean making difficult decisions. This means increasing teacher salaries, reigning in pensions and consolidating some school districts to help reduce state property taxes.

That would be a good start.

Will Buss teaches broadcasting and journalism at Western Illinois University.

This article originally appeared on The McDonough County Voice: illinois teacher shortage solutions

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