ATKINSON, Illinois -
While the Regional Office of Education here is preparing for the coming school year in some 23 districts, there's another problem reaching across Henry, Bureau and Stark Counties - and statewide,
The uncertain Illinois budget and pension crisis are contributing to a teacher shortage. In addition, fewer college students are interested in educational careers these days.
The shortage affects both city and country areas. It reaches large and small districts. With students returning in coming weeks, it concerns Regional Superintendent Angie Zarvell.
"It's dire," she said on Monday, July 2. "Over the past few years, it's gotten significantly worse."
She's not alone. Nearly 80% of Illinois districts report problems with teacher shortages.
In Moline, the applicant pool for Special Education positions is sliced in half. Knoxville can't get any applicants for its openings.
"You may have classrooms that are manned by a substitute teacher because you have no applicants," she continued.
With fewer applicants, experience and quality also decline. Some districts won't fill openings. That could mean larger class sizes or not offering the class.
This is all part of a downward spiral that hurts teacher morale and security.
"Teachers in the classroom are under a lot of pressure, maybe with not a lot of financial return," she said.
A new state law will make it easier for out-of-state, retired and substitute teachers to get certification in Illinois. There's also a push to boost Illinois teacher starting pay to $40,000 by 2022.
"I don't think that any of those new initiatives will have a drastic immediate effect," Zarvell concluded. "The shortage has been so long in coming, I would imagine it would take even longer to turn around."