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September 17, 2019

8/28/2019 2:25:00 PM
May be tough for smaller districts to meet $40K minimum
Local state rep sees new teacher-pay law an an "unfunded mandate."
Daily News

Taking another step intended to address the statewide teacher shortage, Governor J.B. Pritzker has signed legislation raising teachers' minimum salary to $40,000.

"As Illinois children head back to school this week and next, this new law says to them and their parents loud and clear: we value teachers," the governor said. "In signing this legislation, we're addressing our teacher shortage and gradually putting teachers on track to make at least $40,000 a year by the first day of school in 2023. To teachers all across Illinois: I see the care and compassion you put into your work, and I'm proud to help make sure you earn what you're worth."

The current minimum teacher salary ranges from only $9,000 to $11,000 and hasn't been raised in decades. The new law phases in the increases over four years: $32,076 for the 2020-2021 school year, $34,576 for the 2021-2022 school year, $37,076 for the 2022-2023 school year, and $40,000 for the 2023-2024 school year. In the years following, the minimum salary will rise based on the Consumer Price Index, subject to review by the General Assembly.

State Representative Chris Miller is happy for teachers, but would liked for this issue to have stayed at the local level. "I think it is great for entry-level teachers to get a raise; it may help alleviate the teacher shortage," said Miller (R-110th District). "But, I believe that local school boards should be making these decisions rather than politicians in Springfield. I oppose unfunded school mandates."

Locally, Robinson Unit 2 will be in compliance with the new rates of pay at least through the current contract, said Superintendent Joshua Quick.

"Right now we are in the middle of a four-year contract with the Teachers Association, beginning pay is above the target line," he said.

Moving forward, the difference in the pay gap is not huge, he added. He also noted that many of the teachers they hire have a few years of experience, which puts them higher on the pay scale already.

Where the differences will be the most noticeable is for smaller districts like Oblong, Hutsonville and Palestine.

Oblong Unit 4 Superintendent Jeff Patchett said they, too, were in the middle of a contract which currently meets the minimum pay standards, but those numbers will fall short starting at the 2021-22 school year.

"The trick will be how to pay for that," Patchett said. "Hopefully the Evidence Based Funding will keep up and we will have new funding when we get there."

"The next question is how it will affect existing teachers," Patchett said. "Their salary scale is unique."

Most teacher salaries are based on years of service, with increases for each year. "A union electrician starts out as an apprentice and then becomes a journeyman. A five-year journeyman gets paid the same as a 20-year. Teachers salaries are not like that," Patchett said.

He also pointed out that if the teacher shortage does not get better, it may not matter what the salary is. "We usedf to get 30 applicants for an opening, now we get one, maybe three if we are lucky," Patchett said. "I hope this encourages to go back to school (to be a teacher)."

Signing HB 2078, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020, is one of Pritzker's approaches to reduce the teacher shortage across the state and revitalize the state's education system after years of disinvestment.

In the state budget signed into law on June 6, Gov. Pritzker enacted a historic $375 million increase in K-12 funding.

On June 28, Pritzker signed the Rebuild Illinois capital plan which invested over half a billion dollars in preK-12 projects and $420 million into statewide broadband expansion, including expanding Illinois Century Network, which connects schools across the state to high-speed internet.

On August 8, Pritzker signed legislation eliminating the basic skills test for teacher licensure allowing school districts to pay student teachers (SB 1952 / Public Act 101-0220).

On July 12, Pritzker signed legislation extending the eligible employment period for teachers returning to the classroom in shortage areas by two years, particularly helping downstate communities (HB 1472 / Public Act 101-0049).

According to Illinois State Board of Education data from the 2018-2019 school year, there are 4,196 unfilled positions in school districts across the state, including 1,848 unfilled teaching positions.

"This $40,000 minimum salary legislation sends a message to future teachers that they are valued and respected in Illinois," said Kathi Griffin, President of the Illinois Education Association. "This step is critical as we face growing teacher shortages and will allow us to attract and retain the very best teachers for our children. On behalf of 135,000 members of the Illinois Education Association and their students, I thank Gov. Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly for their leadership."

"We have a teacher shortage in our state, and research shows that fair compensation plays a major factor in a person's decision to choose and stay in a profession," said Dan Montgomery, President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. "Too often new teachers struggle financially, and many are forced to work a second job to make ends meet. This legislation is a major step in improving starting salaries and paying teachers based upon their years of education, which will encourage high-quality professionals to enter and stay in the profession. We thank Senator Manar and Representative Stuart for advancing this much-needed bill and Governor Pritzker for signing it into law."

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