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Area Educators See Possibilities In Teacher Minimum-Wage Bill

Flickr user / alamosbasement "old school" (CC BY 2.0)

The Illinois General Assembly has sent a bill to Gov. Bruce Rauner that would raise the minimum starting salary for public-school teachers.

Senate Bill 2892 would raise the minimum starting salary for a public school teacher in Illinois to $40,000. It does this through a sliding scale, gradually increasing the minimum until it reaches the target by 2022.

IFT President Dan Montgomery, left, and IEA Director of Government Relations Jim Reed.

The bill was supported by the Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers. IFT President Dan Montgomery says there is significant disparity in what teachers are paid throughout Illinois. He says that, in some areas, a new teacher with a master’s degree might earn only $27,000 per year.

“If you look in the private sector or the nonprofit sector, workers with master’s degrees in the state, the average for them is an earning of about $103,000,” Montgomery said. “So that’s a massive gap here.”

Jim Reed, Director of Government Relations for IEA, says teachers also are being asked to do much more with less money and resources.

“We ask them to deal with health issues with our kids. School violence is an issue that they have to deal with; so, across the board, we’re asking them to do more and we aren’t paying them more and compensating them more for it,” Reed said.

Districts close to the Chicago suburbs, such as West Aurora and DeKalb, already pay above the proposed minimum of $40,000. But that’s not the case for other districts in northern Illinois. The average starting pay for teachers in Lee, Ogle and Whiteside Counties is around $36,000. The assistant regional superintendent for Winnebago and Boone County also says that, to his knowledge, no districts in his counties pay at or above this minimum either.

The bill will help these districts by attracting more potential teachers, according to the IFT’s Montgomery:

“As a parent, you want the best professionals you can get, teaching, taking care of your kids every day. And one way we have to do that is make teacher compensation better.”

Many districts have negotiated pay scales, where rates for teachers with more experience or seniority are tied to the minimum hiring salary. This means raising the minimum salary would require a corresponding increase to everyone else’s wages. The heads of some rural districts worry that the state doesn’t have a funding mechanism in place to account for this.

But Reed, from the IEA, believes the new school funding formula can help.

“We think that, with the additional money they will be getting through the evidence-based model, it should help counter any challenges they may be facing in meeting salary and providing for all of the other things that they need,” Reed said.

Even with ambiguities over funding, some school officials — like DeKalb High School Principal James Horne — believe that raising teacher pay will provide a net gain to the state.

“What will happen overall is you have more people going into the profession. The more people you have going into the profession, the bigger the applicant pool is any time you go to fill a position,” Horne said.

Rauner has 60 days to decide whether or not to sign the proposed salary increase into law, and Reed says his union is optimistic.

“Based upon the roll calls that we got from both the House and the Senate, we feel very good about the enthusiasm of the bill, and we hope that the governor would sign it.”

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