SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WMBD) — Wednesday morning, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed four bills into law, with each focusing on different challenges contributing to Illinois’ teacher shortage.

As Illinois has added more than 5,000 teachers to the profession since 2018, these investments aim to ease some of the main issues contributing to the teacher shortage.

“Gov. Pritzker’s investments in strengthening our education system and increasing funding for schools have boosted teacher salaries, recruitment, retention, and diversity, even during the difficult years of the pandemic,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “Today’s bill signing builds on those efforts to help schools meet the ongoing need for more substitute teachers and paraprofessionals. Continuing to make strategic, equity-driven improvements to our teacher pipelines will ensure that all students have the well-supported educators they need in every classroom, every day.”

Below is a brief explanation of what each bill would change for teachers.

House Bill 4246

House Bill 4246 lowers the penalty fees for renewing lapsed educator licenses from $500 to $50.

“Retired teachers already have the skills and experience to create a dynamic learning environment and they are an incredible asset as we address the current teacher shortage,” said State Rep. Sue Scherer (D-Decatur). “Waiving the registration fees for retired teachers to renew their licenses will help students across the state receive the high-quality education Illinois is known for.”

The law is effective immediately.

House Bill 4798

With House Bill 4798, current teaching students will be able to obtain additional classroom training by obtaining a substitute teaching license after they have completed 90 credit hours.

Previously, substitute teaching candidates had to have a bachelor’s degree or higher to get that additional training.

“I am pleased that Gov. Pritzker has signed House Bill 4798 into law,” said State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray (D-Naperville). “This bill will streamline the process of qualified student-educators obtaining substitute teaching licenses, reducing bureaucratic red tape, and will increase the availability of substitute teachers to better support our public schools at this critical time.”

The law is effective Jan. 1, 2023.

Senate Bill 3988

Senate Bill 3988 lowers the age requirement for paraprofessional educators working with students from pre-K to eighth grade from 19 to 18. This allows prospective educators the opportunity to build a career earlier.

“Teachers and students alike benefit from the presence of a paraprofessional in the classroom. Finding a solution to address the more than 2,000 vacancies of this profession is vital,” said State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “By lowering the age requirement by one year, we are opening the door to additional qualified applicants to get into classrooms and help students get the individualized support they may need.”

The law is effective Jan. 1, 2023.

Senate Bill 3907

Senate Bill 3907 impacts short-term substitute teachers working during a disaster declaration. It increases the number of consecutive days short-term substitute teachers can spend in the same classroom from five to 15.

“We are working to alleviate some of the stress our schools are facing when it comes to the ongoing teacher shortage,” said State Sen. Doris Turner (D-Springfield). “I am proud to have supported this common-sense measure that keeps kids in the classroom and allows schools more flexibility during a time of adversity.”

The law is effective immediately.

“All across the nation, school districts are fighting the impact of teacher shortages,” Pritzker said. “That’s why I’ve worked with lawmakers and school districts across the state to find new ways to bring people into the profession and encourage them to stay there. In this fight for our children’s futures, school districts should know they’re far from alone.”

Local reaction

Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Kherat said the district has about 30 teaching openings.

“Urban districts, rural districts, it’s a constant vicious cycle,” Kherat said

She said the shortage is a lack combination of many factors including retirements, relocations, and an overall competitive market for educators.

“You have other people who are being given higher salaries and bonuses and incentives,” Kherat said.

She said commended the bills signed Wednesday and called them “a step in the right direction”, but leveling funding between communities with larger and smaller tax bases is important for long-term solutions.

“I know it’s difficult work, figuring how out this defect, this fundamental structure can be rectified,” Kherat said.

Kherat added that PPS is continuously looking at ways to recruit and retain teachers, including raising starting pay to around $50,000 over the next couple of years.