Pritzker proposes $70 million program to hire and retain teachers amid Illinois teacher shortage

A teacher reads a book out loud in front of a group students who are sitting on colorful rug in a classroom.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed a three-year, $70 million grant program to help schools hire and retain teachers amid Illinois teacher shortage. (Christian K. Lee for Chalkbeat)

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed a three-year, $70 million pilot program in the state’s 2024 budget that would help school districts hire and retain educators amid the state’s ongoing teacher shortage. 

Pritzker’s plan, called The Teacher Pipeline Grant Program, identifies 170 school districts across the state with the most vacancies; these districts account for 80% of unfilled teacher positions in Illinois. Pritzker estimates that 870,000 public school students would see an improved teacher-to-student ratio in the future under the initiative. 

“Parents and children deserve schools that are fully staffed with quality educators,” Pritzker said at a press conference to announce the new grant program on Friday morning.

Pritzker said districts can create their own plans for how funding from the initiative should be used to attract new teachers. Schools could use the funding for sign-up bonuses, housing stipends, tuition assistance, professional development, and other approaches to address the teacher shortage in their districts, he said.

Pritzker said he hopes the program will attract teachers from abroad and surrounding states to join the teacher workforce in Illinois. 

Some school districts have also used federal emergency coronavirus relief funds for programs to attract more teachers, since the COVID-19 pandemic heightened staff shortages in schools.

In January, the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools released a survey showing that the teacher shortage has worsened. A majority of school leaders from 690 districts said that the shortage is as bad or worse than last school year and applicants who apply aren’t qualified for open positions.

School districts across the state struggle to fill openings for special education, bilingual education, STEM courses, and support positions. The survey found that districts in towns and rural areas in east-central and west-central Illinois had more vacancies. 

State Superintendent Tony Sanders applauded Pritzker for creating a plan to support teacher hiring. 

“The experience of teaching is incredible,” Sanders said. “It is not teaching itself that’s causing the teacher shortage but the systemic inequalities present in our most under-resourced districts.” 

The State Board of Education last year created a $4 million grant to support teachers who wanted to get a bilingual educator endorsement. The state has also expanded the Minority Teacher Illinois Scholarship, which is aimed at increasing the number of teachers of color and bilingual educators, to $4.2 million. Under Pritzker’s recent budget plan, he proposed another increase to the scholarship to a total of $7 million

The general assembly will have to approve Pritzker’s new initiative in the 2024 budget at the end of the current legislative session.  

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the grant program would target 170 schools rather than 170 school districts.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at ssmylie@chalkbeat.org.

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