‘That’s a problem’ policy analyst says of Illinois’ rules against differential teacher pay

(The Center Square) – A recent survey of school districts resulted in multiple white papers putting increased teachers’ pay and benefits and relaxed certifications for teaching at the top of solutions to Illinois’ teacher shortage.

The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools conducted the survey late last year with west central and southeastern Illinois reporting the worst shortages, NPR reported.

Tim Benson, policy analyst for the Heartland Institute, which focuses on education among other things, said the shortage is more nuanced than simply raising salaries across the board.

“The shortages come in areas where the teaching is a little bit more – the field is a little more difficult, whether it’s special education or math or science, English as a second language – something like that,” he told the Illinois News Network.

Benson pointed out there is no shortage of drama, art or physical education teachers. He suggested a solution private and charter schools already employ.

“They offer differential pay for subjects that are a little bit more difficult to teach or something that’s a little more intensive in time,” he said.

Raising the pay rate for positions that are hard to fill would attract more educators into those gaps, Benson argued.

Something the existing system and teachers’ unions don’t allow, he added.

“That’s a problem,” he said.

The white papers agreed that the state’s Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois continues to play a role in discouraging newcomers into the field.

Benson pointed out that the pension system isn’t portable and punishes teachers for moving jobs by reducing their pension.

“It discourages mobility, the current system, within the district or across district lines or across county lines or even across state lines,” he said. “When teachers are forced to change pension plans they get a financial punishment and basically it hurts them and they don’t make as much as they would if they worked a full career with the same plan in the same district.”

Whether the state redoes the existing pension plan or converts to a 401(k)-style plan, Benson said it needs to be fixed.

He said, however, that the most comprehensive solution to shortages is building choice into the school system. Increasing the private sector will create a greater diversity of jobs making the sector more attractive to those who might not otherwise consider education.

“The more options parents have, that means the more options teachers are going to have, so choice is the best thing for everybody,” he said.

The state constitution prohibits reduction of promised pension benefits, which has made changing the state’s existing pension system for teachers and other state employees difficult.

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