Illinois took one step forward in addressing its teacher shortage today. Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation today raising teacher’s minimum annual salary to $40,000. State Senator Andy Manar of Bunker Hill and Representative Katie Stuart of Edwardsville were co-sponsors of the bill who were on hand to witness the signing of the bill. District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek as well as second-year teacher at Crossroads Learning Center in Jacksonville Bentley Stewart were also on hand.
The bill which will take effect on January 1st gives teacher their first salary increase in decades. The $40,000 minimum wage will be phased in over 4 years.The first increase will raise the original minimum wage from $11,000 to $32,076 for next year and then to $40,000 by the 2023-2024 school year. After the four years is complete, the minimum salary will rise based on the Consumer Price Index. According to Illinois State Board of Education data from the 2018-2019 school year, there are 4,196 unfilled positions in school districts across the state, including 1,848 unfilled teaching positions.
Stewart spoke to the crowd as the final featured speaker of the day: “Thank you, Governor Pritzker for signing this bill. I currently make about $34,000 this year and this bill is great news for all of us and for other current and future teachers. By passing this law, you have told us that we are valued. Educators go into the teaching profession because we are passionate about it. I personally teach K through 12 of expelled and suspended kids. I make connections with these students every day. I deeply care about them and I want them to succeed. It’s a very hard job, and teachers don’t mind that, but we also want to be secure in knowing we’ll be able to raise our own families and our families will be secure. This law goes a long way towards that. While I was in college, many of my favorite teachers were discouraging me from finishing my education degree because of the low pay and the student debt. Many of them picked up extra jobs that kept them away from their own families. I persevered but I did have to move back home with my parents and picked up another job as I began teaching to supplement the pay, and to manage my student loan debt that is very high. This new will allow future teacher to begin the profession with that confidence that they need. This law gives me hope. It shows me that Illinoisans respect teachers and the work that we do for our students and our own communities.”
Stewart says that the wage increase will now help her provide for her own family as well as allow for some extra expenses for her classroom to provide for students. The signing of the bill comes on the heels of a $375 million dollar increase in funding signed into law by the state budget on June 6th as well as eliminating the basic skills test for incoming teachers to help combat Illinois’ ongoing teacher shortage.
Stewart says the increase in salary will give her an opportunity to pay off her personal debts but also allow her to purchase extra things her classroom needs in the near future. “It’s definitely going to impact how I live and how I teach, which is most important. I’m several thousand dollars in the hole on debt. I bought a car and have a car payment. You have insurance and all of those other outside influences and costs. It really impacts how you spend your money, and teachers buy so much for their classrooms. It saddens me to be restricted to what I can provide for my students and their families. My student loan debt is definitely a cloud hanging over my head, and this bill is definitely going to help those teachers that are struggling like I am. Those extra couple thousand dollars will certainly help me not worry so much about the day-to-day activities that I have to do.”
Stewart says she sees the effects of having less teachers all the time at Crossroads. “The amount of openings that I had to choose from [when I graduated] was really saddening. I think [the shortage] really does have an impact. Teachers are having to cover other teachers. They are getting really worn down every single day of the week. The workload keeps piling up and it’s hard to focus on those kids who may need that extra attention. We are not do anything for them if we cannot focus on what those students need in the classroom when they are overlooked. Maybe their teacher has 30 plus kids in the classroom. Class sizes are getting bigger because there are less teachers, so kids get less attention and fall through the cracks. That’s definitely scary. Crossroads does see a lot of kids who are those who may have fallen through the cracks that didn’t need to. It is a sad situation because if we had those extra teachers, those kids could get those services they do need.”
Stewart said it was a great experience to meet the governor and legislators to tell her personal story about what it means to be a teacher and the crisis in the classroom that many school districts are facing by not being able to keep or hire new teachers because of the lack of salary.