In the Farrington school district, near Mount Vernon, a new teacher makes less than $29,000 — even with a master’s degree. Farrington is one of the lowest-paying districts, but state officials say some 7,000 teachers statewide makes less than $40,000.
A new state law just approved by the legislature would change that.
It would phase in a minimum salary for teachers: $32,076 for the 2019-20 school year, then $34,576 the next year, $37,076 the next, and $40,000 by 2022-23. After that, salaries would increase at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index, subject to review by the General Assembly.
So how will Farrington — and other districts — pay for these higher salaries? State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), who sponsored the legislation along with Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), has no easy answer.
"I say we need to figure out a way to afford it,” Mitchell says, “because education is the greatest investment we make in our children. Every politician who runs for office runs on properly funding education. You cannot on the one hand say you care about education and teachers, and on the other hand not pay them enough money to live."
Last year, Illinois overhauled its school funding formula, keeping every district at their previous funding level but adding extra money to equalize schools that lack sufficient local resources. That equalization effort depends on legislators annually appropriating at least $350 million. Mitchell believes this new teacher salary law will incentivize lawmakers to keep appropriating that money.
"If we set this as a priority, then as we start thinking about how much new money we put through the formula. We would want to prioritize putting enough through that we could afford good salaries for teachers," he says. "And by laying down this marker and making this commitment, we then give ourselves an impetus to make sure that we're putting enough money into the formula to make sure we cover the additional dollars necessary."
Illinois has about 2,000 vacant teaching positions, so the new salary requirement is also designed to alleviate the state’s severe teacher shortage. Supporters say it would not only help recruit teachers, but also retain teachers, because with $40,000 as the floor, the salary ceiling will also rise.
The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 37-16, but the vote in the House was 65-47, just short of a veto-proof majority. It has not yet been sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner, but Mitchell hopes he will sign it.
“Because he should,” Mitchell says. “He said he cares about education, he said that education funding reform is the greatest achievement of his governorship. If that's the case, the only way you implement that reform is if we have enough teachers to make sure that your zip code and your district doesn't determine your access to actually having a teacher in your classroom."