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Illinois lawmakers skeptical of a funding request for teacher bonuses

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(The Center Square) – Illinois lawmakers considering a funding request to pay teachers a retention bonus expressed skepticism on whether the program is working and improving education outcomes.

During a House Appropriations-Elementary and Secondary Education Committee hearing this week, officials administering the program asked for $10 million in taxpayer funds for bonuses. Jennifer Ross, a lobbyist for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, said the bonuses are an attempt to get teachers in hard-to-staff schools.

“Hard-to-staff schools are defined by a school that is at least 30% below income,” Ross said. “We’re providing retention bonuses of $4,000 a year for two years.”

To qualify for the bonus, teachers would have to become certified with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

State Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, said a teacher could take two years of bonuses and then just move on.

“Now that they have two more years of experience, do they move on to a school that pays better overall,” said Halbrook. “I guess I’m just trying to figure out if this is a good value for taxpayers or not.”

Halbrook also wondered how the teachers union is going to react with some educators receiving bonuses and others not.

State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, said $10 million is a big ask.

“Does that money have to be used to pay for the additional education, or is it just money they get to just put in their pockets,” said Davis. “Is this a number thrown out that sounds good, if we give them $8,000 they will want to continue to go to these schools.”

State Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Swansea, was behind the legislation and said it is aimed at addressing the teacher shortage in underserved areas.

There is also a law in Illinois that increased the annual pay cap for teachers who mentor or provide professional development for classroom teachers or counselors. The annual pay cap increased from $1,500 to $2,250 for teachers with National Board for Professional Teaching Standards designations.

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