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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

93% Of Illinois Schools Can't Find Enough Substitute Teachers

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Spencer Tritt
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Ninety-three percent of schools said they have a problem finding substitutes to fill in when teachers are unavailable. There was a shortage before the pandemic, but COVID-19 made it substantially worse, especially as schools return in-person and the need for substitutes ramps up.

Mark Klaisner is the president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools. They released an annual report on the severity of the Illinois teacher shortage. He says some schools are offering far more than the $100-a-day standard in order to try and find subs.

“Desperate districts are spending 200 a day on substitutes and still can't find them. I think that really speaks to the shortage. It's not all about money,” he said.

Schools have even used unlicensed staff like cafeteria and bus workers to watch classes when teachers are forced to quarantine.

Districts rely heavily on retired teachers to sub, many of whom are in a more vulnerable class and don’t want to risk coming into classrooms. They also may not have the proper training to teach remotely. Mostly, they’ve relied on short-term substitutes and paraprofessionals to fill in.

“The question that frequently comes up is, these are not necessarily educators. How do we maintain the quality?” he said. “And I think there are some things that could be done, like assigning mentors.”

Staffing shortages during the pandemic have canceled hundreds of classes and moved hundreds online. Klaisner says there has to be a level of trust in administrators that they’re doing their best to put qualified staff in classrooms.

Klaisner says the state could extend the short-term substitute license from 10 days to 30 and the long-term from 90 days to a year. He says the change wouldn’t have to be permanent, but it would help give schools the agility to fill classrooms as schools go back in-person and the need for subs ramps back up.

Staffing shortages during the pandemic have canceled hundreds of classes and moved hundreds online. He says there has to be a level of trust in administrators that they’re doing their best to put qualified staff in classrooms.

The teacher shortage is more concentrated in rural districts and districts with higher percentages of low-income students.