FILE - School Classroom Students

(The Center Square) – The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools is describing what he says is a teacher shortage around the state as a crisis. 

The group conducted its sixth statewide survey of school superintendents on the staffing situation, and found that 79% of the 690 respondents said they have a teacher shortage problem. 

“This is not something that started with COVID,” said IARSS President Mark Klaisner. “Certainly COVID exacerbated the situation and we are freely using the word crisis.”

Ninety-three percent of districts said the shortage is as bad as or worse than last school year. 

According to statistics from the Illinois State Board of Education, there were 5,301 unfilled teaching positions around the state in 2022. That is compared to 4,120 the year before and 2,006 in 2017.  

How severe the shortage is depends on who you talk to. Illinois schools employed more teachers in 2021 than it had at any point over the past decade while student enrollment declined over the same period. 

According to Illinois Policy Institute, nearly 410,000 students were enrolled in Chicago Public Schools at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. This fall, about 322,000 students remained, a loss of over 87,000 students. Despite the decline in the number of enrolled students, the school district's demands on taxpayers increased 55% during that time. 

And the most recent report from the Illinois State Board of Education on teacher supply and demand found that 99% of teaching positions were filled in 2020 and that vacancy rates were highest for bilingual and special education teachers. Even in those more-difficult-to-fill positions, the vacancy rates remained below 3% in 2018, 2019 and 2020, The Center Square previously reported.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed several measures into law last year to address what he said was a teacher shortage, including cutting fees and making it easier to qualify to teach.

“I want you to know that we are continuing to find new ways to bring more help into our classrooms so that all students can get the education that they deserve,” Pritzker said while signing the bills last April. 

The IARSS survey showed a number of school districts reported less than half of the applicants they receive for their open positions are actually qualified for that position. For about one-fifth of schools seeking to fill non-licensed staff and paraprofessional roles, less than half of their applicants would be qualified for those positions.

Klaisner said his group would like to see more funding for districts to further incentivize teachers to get more endorsements and compensation for high-need subjects and positions.

“We cannot lose sight that the work we do today to again make education the attractive, rewarding career as we know it to be is critical to providing the best education possible for every child, from Rockford to Cairo,” said Klaisner.

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.