April 14, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Teacher shortage survey shows filled positions up, as are vacancies

It’s late March, which means it’s time for another encounter with empirical data showing Illinois doesn’t have enough qualified teachers.

On Tuesday the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools released its annual study on teacher shortages with both good news (the total number of filled positions is up) and bad (so is the number of open jobs). The top-line number is 91% of responses indicating some degree of a problem with shortages.

We reviewed last year’s data in the context of a push to mandate all-day kindergarten by the fall of 2027, and also have explored the state’s Teacher Pipeline Grants open to the 170 school districts accounting for 80% of all unfilled positions. And the topic always affords a chance to argue for further leveraging dozens of community colleges to address this and several other public service hiring challenges.

The 2023 report (iarss.org/2023-educator-shortage) details alternative measures used to fill vacancies: substitutes, bringing retirees back to the workforce, combining classes, increasing class sizes and more. In a prime example of cause leading to effect that only worsens the cause, the report also noted that “across most educator positions, insufficient compensation, employee burnout and increased responsibilities were cited as the most common causes for vacancies.”

A key challenge to solving this issue through political means is each successive year of data underscores the reality of this being a regional challenge.

A full 36% of education agencies reported no unfilled positions. In the other 64%, a majority report severe shortages. The report indicates a concentration in rural and urban areas – not always aligned on solutions – and then within specific content areas or ages of student population.

“Furthermore, many of the districts that have faced severe shortages over time also tend to serve high percentages of English language learners, students from low-income families and students with individualized education programs,” per the report.

Unsaid is the reality that students from high-income families are more likely to solve the issue as it relates to their children by opting for a private school or relocating to a district with better resources. This eventually has a downstream effect on the local property taxes used to fund schools.

(The same dynamic applies when residents of wealthy, desirable public districts complain about property taxes, seemingly unconcerned with the school system’s role in propping up the value of their homes.)

As much as I enjoy poring over numbers, my favorite part of this year’s report was the collected answers to four open-ended questions. The remarks flesh out the larger issue and add human touches to what might otherwise be cold calculations.

Illinois isn’t ignoring this problem, nor are we alone in the struggle. Clearly, much more work is needed.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.