SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday highlighted a proposed grant program that would direct $70 million per year over the next three years to school districts facing the greatest teacher shortages.
The Teacher Pipeline Grant Program, which Pritzker included in his budget proposal to lawmakers, would target vacancies in 170 school districts that account for 80 percent of all unfilled teaching positions in Illinois. The districts would have “maximum flexibility” to decide how the funds are disbursed, according to a news release.
Funds could be used for signing bonuses, housing stipends, down-payment assistance and providing residencies or apprenticeships, among other hiring incentives. Districts may also use the funding to reimburse tuition and fees or to provide teaching supplies, coaching and additional school support.
“The result will be that over 870,000 Illinois students will see an improved teacher-student ratio, a critical factor in classroom success,” Gov. Pritzker said at a Friday news conference. “Our collective goals are to make sure we have enough great teachers in every classroom.”
The governor touted some of his earlier accomplishments aimed at improving the teaching workforce, including increasing the teacher minimum wage, increasing scholarships and grants for aspiring teachers, and reducing the reinstatement fees for a lapsed educator license.
Pritzker also made a call to other teachers in surrounding states to move to Illinois.
“We have surrounding states where teachers are paid less than teachers in the state of Illinois and I want to formally invite every teacher in every state surrounding us to jump over the border,” Pritzker said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
He was joined by newly appointed State Superintendent of Education Tony Sanders, a former superintendent for Elgin Area School District U46, the second largest school district in Illinois.
Sanders pointed to Illinois State Board of Education data that shows Illinois schools reported 3,558 unfilled teaching positions as of October 2022.
“These shortages don’t just affect students equally. These vacancies are concentrated in bilingual education, special education and STEM,” Sanders said. “This is why the teacher pipeline program will target districts with the resources they need to solve locally the challenges they have for recruitment and retention and remove barriers preventing aspiring educators from pursuing a calling to teaching.”
In addition to the grant program, ISBE will also spend $6 million in federal funds to hire a multimedia advertising and marketing firm to create a statewide teacher recruitment campaign.
The governor has spent several recent news conferences publicizing his plans on education issues, including his proposed “Smart Start” program to expand access to preschool and child care throughout the state. In the weeks following his budget address, he visited Springfield, Rockford, East St. Louis, Chicago, Mount Vernon, Chicago, Peoria and Macomb to rally support for the plan.
“When I came into office, the state of Illinois was providing nearly the lowest percentage of school funding for K-12 and P-12,” Pritzker said at the Friday news conference. “That was four years ago. But during the last four years, with the General Assembly’s help, we’ve addressed this woeful underfunding of K-12 education with an increase of more than $1.5 billion from the state of Illinois.”
His proposed plan calls for $250 million to fund the first year of Smart Start and an additional $350 million aimed at the Evidence Based Funding formula.