SPRINGFIELD – As school districts around the state continue struggling to fill teaching positions, Senate Democrats hosted a press conference in Springfield on Thursday announcing a number of legislative measures that would help address the void.

“Teachers have a significant, lifelong impact on their students. The impact involves not just teaching particular academic skills, but fostering life skills, creativity and productivity that leads to positive outcomes for years to come,” said Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood). “Attracting quality educators to our state is vital to our education system and providing our children with the best possible education.”

According to the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, there are more than 5,300 unfilled positions in schools. In an attempt to address the vacancies and increase the substitute teacher pool, State Senator Meg Loughran Cappel introduced a plan – House Bill 3442 – which would allow a substitute teacher who has filled a vacancy left by a licensed teacher in an emergency situation for 90 days or until the end of the semester, whichever is greater, if the school distinct files a written request with the appropriate regional office of education.

“As a former special education teacher, I saw firsthand the impact the teacher shortage had on our students, teachers and staff,” said Loughran Cappel (D-Shorewood). “We have to continue uplifting the education profession and encouraging more people to join it.”

Loughran Cappel also is leading Senate Bill 2236 to remove the number of days for short-term substitute teachers to teach in the classroom – allowing them to spend more time in the classroom if needed and remove application fees for teaching licenses.

“Having qualified mentors and increasing the number of days subs can teach are steps we are taking to directly address the teacher shortage,” said Loughran Cappel. “It’s essential for teachers to have the tools, resources and support to do their job successfully so our students can continue to learn and grow.”

State Senator Christopher Belt is leading a measure that aims to provide an incentive for teachers to work in underserved areas, as these are the areas that are most affected by the current teacher shortage.

House Bill 3801 would provide retention bonuses of $4,000 per year, for two consecutive years to teachers who are National Board Certified who are employed in hard-to-staff schools.

A hard-to-staff school is a public school that no less than 30% of the student enrollment is considered low-income. Becoming a National Board Certified teacher is a career continuum for those that starts in pre-service teacher preparation, leading aspiring teachers to pursue and achieve National Board Certification.

“Without enough qualified teachers in our classrooms, we cannot provide our children with the education they deserve,” said Belt (D-Swansea). “We need to invest in our educators and prioritize the education of our youth, as they are the future of Illinois.”

To incentivize educational professionals, Cappel is also sponsoring House Bill 1291, which would increase the annual pay cap from $1,500 to $2,250 for teachers with National Board for Professional Teaching Standards designations who mentor or provide professional development for classroom teachers or counselors.

Members of the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus are fighting to get the abovementioned measure through the House and Senate before the planned May 19 adjournment.