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Bills to address Illinois teacher shortages advance

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SPRINGFIELD – Two bills aimed at relieving the state’s teacher shortage, at least in the short term, advanced out of a Senate committee Tuesday.

The Senate Education Committee unanimously endorsed two bills that would allow retired teachers to work as substitutes more days in a school year without losing any of their pension benefits.

“We all know that teacher the shortage is significant and it had been prior to COVID, and we were already trying to find a solution,” said Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, the Senate majority leader. “But once COVID hit, it’s exacerbated because of the social distancing that's required. Many school districts have classrooms that have far too many children in them, which is requiring that additional staffing.”

Lightford was speaking in favor of Senate Bill 3201, by Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey. In its current form, it would extend the return-to-work limit for downstate teachers in the Illinois Teachers Retirement System to 150 days from its current 120 days. But Harris said he intends to amend the bill to drop the proposed limit to 140 days to satisfy concerns from teachers unions.

Allowing retired teachers more flexibility to return to work was one of the recommendations of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools when they released their annual survey in January in which 88 percent of the districts responding said they had a shortage of full-time teachers, while 96 percent said they had a shortage of substitute teachers.

But that would only be a short-term solution. A similar bill is pending in the House that would extend the return-to-work limit only through June 30 of this year. Harris, however, said he thinks it should be extended through the 2022-2023 academic year as well.

“I'd like to keep it until the following school year due to the fact that this school year is pretty much almost over,” he said.

He said extending it through June 2023 would “give the school districts and administrators time to navigate the teacher shortage” that is happening “all across our state and the country.”

The committee also advanced SB3465, by Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, which would offer a similar option for teachers who retired from Chicago Public Schools. It would allow those retired teachers to return to work in “subject shortage areas” through June 30, 2024, without losing pension benefits.

Martwick said the bill is identical to one that passed last year that applied only to downstate teachers.

“This extends the same provisions to the Chicago Public Schools,” Martwick said. “It would allow them to hire back retired teachers, but they would have to go through a whole process that would declare them as an area suffering a shortage.”

Both bills advanced out of the committee on 13-0 votes, although Harris said he plans to bring his bill back with an amendment.

Monday’s hearing was held virtually. Although lawmakers had been planning to return to in-person meetings this week, those plans were canceled due to an impending severe winter storm that is expected to hit central Illinois Wednesday and Thursday.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Peter Hancock joined the Capitol News Illinois team as a reporter in January 2019.
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