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Legislators discuss staffing issues at Illinois schools

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(The Center Square) – Illinois lawmakers are working on addressing school staffing issues.

Officials representing speech pathologists, nurses and special education teachers met with the Illinois House Elementary & Secondary Education Committee Thursday to discuss the need for more workers.

Illinois State Board of Education numbers show 7,188 unfilled teaching positions across the state, resulting in a 3.47% vacancy rate.

State Rep. Janet Yang Rohr, D-Naperville, was asked if the issue is at all exaggerated.

“I was in the K-12 appropriations committee, so we are looking at money that is going to schools, and one of the reports we looked at, all it did was looked at open positions and unfilled positions,” Yang Rohr told The Center Square. “So based on that, clearly, there are a lot of unfilled positions.”

Committee chair state Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, said the staffing issue is a real problem beyond just classroom teachers.

“It’s the social workers. It is the counselors. It is the reading specialist. It is everything in the background. It is the entire school community,” Mussman said. “The lunchroom workers, the bus drivers, everybody who is interacting with the education space right now. We just need more of them, really to be able to wrap around and support our youth.”

Those representing the Illinois Education Association said workers are scarce because many in the general population have begun to look at the teaching profession in a negative light. Yang Rohr told The Center Square that is a difficult problem to address.

“We have given them more resources to try and address these [staffing issues], but if you listen to the things that they were saying, like a lack of respect and a more combative environment, and I don’t know how to legislate being nice or being civil,” Yang Rohr said.

Along with the “negative” views on the profession, ISBE stated some of the factors contributing to staffing issues are the taxes on education, pension problems, problems with state funding and the impact of Senate Bill 100, which uses state funding for “at risk students” and prohibits early childhood programs that receive state funds from expelling any students.

Republicans have been critical of the state’s education policies like curriculum being top down instead of allowing more local control. State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, said throwing more taxpayer money at education does nothing to fix that problem.

“I think that we should do a lot more focusing on getting our proficiency levels up through the K-8 programs before we pile a bunch more on to the State Board of Education, that really over the past three years has done a really dismal job,” Wilhour said earlier this year.

Illinois spends more than $16,000 per student, far more than neighboring states, he said.

“We’re spending record money, we’re just not seeing the results,” said Wilhour. “We’ve got too much bureaucracy for one, just sucking away dollars from the classrooms.”

Illinois currently has around 3,600 open teaching positions open and another 2,700 openings for school paraprofessionals.

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