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Senate Dems work for teachers year-round, not just this week

0508 TeacherDayThis week is Teacher Appreciation Week, but Senate Democrats are working on behalf of public school teachers year-round to provide the resources and opportunities they need to educate our children.

Last year, after nearly four years that included hundreds of hours of testimony from parents, teachers and students and dozens of bipartisan meetings, an unprecedented overhaul of how Illinois funds public schools was signed into law. State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) was the sponsor of the proposal, Senate Bill 1947, in the Senate.

When the governor shared his budget plan this February for the coming year, he included a proposal to dump the state’s share of teacher pension costs on local school districts. That would have devastating effects on classrooms and learning throughout Illinois.

“The governor is playing the game of trickling expenses down to local districts. My school leaders are already facing high levels of unpredictability and uncertainty. They’re unable to carry a half-billion dollars in new spending that the governor is putting on them,” said Senator Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, a Democrat from Plainfield and a member of the Senate Appropriations II Committee.

Bertino-Tarrant said she’s open to a policy discussion about whether there’s a responsible way to transition some costs over a longer term, but agreed Rauner’s four-year plan to shift $2 billion in state responsibilities to schools would wreak havoc and undermines lawmakers’ historic efforts to invest in public education.

An effort is underway this spring to build the ranks of educators at every level in Illinois and ensure they receive a fair salary. Ensuring teachers earn a livable minimum salary is one significant step Illinois can take to recruit more educators into rural and downstate classrooms and address the ongoing shortage, Senator Manar is sponsoring Senate Bill 2892. The Senate Education Committee approved his measure raising Illinois’ minimum mandated salary for full-time teachers for the first time since 1980. It now awaits House action.

Senator Omar Aquino’s (D-Chicago) proposal to allow bilingual participants in an educator preparation program was recently approved by the Illinois Senate. Senate Bill 2844 would increase the amount of bilingual teachers by creating the Growing Future Educators Program, a pathway to a paraprofessional license.

The severe shortage of substitute teachers available in rural and downstate school districts would ease under a measure that was approved this spring by the Illinois Senate. Senate Bill 3045 sponsored by Manar increases to 120 the number of days a retired teacher can return to the classroom as a substitute without affecting his or her retirement status. Currently, the limit is set at 100 days.

Senate Bill 3047, sponsored by Manar, creates the Grow Your Own STEM and Vocational Education Teachers Act. Illinois public universities could waive tuition, fees and on-campus housing costs for students who agree to pursue bachelor’s or advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, math or agriculture and agree to teach related subjects in hard-to-staff Illinois schools.

They then would teach such subjects as math, natural sciences, and career and vocational education, including agriculture, technology, industrial arts, trades, health care and information technology. These are all subject areas for which many schools have difficulty filling teaching vacancies.

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