Data Desk

Illinois Teacher Shortage Hits Vulnerable Students Hardest

[Scroll down for Early Childhood data]

A good teacher can be the difference between a student going to college and dropping out of high school. But in Illinois, our most vulnerable students do not always have access to the teachers they so desperately need.

A recent survey from the Illinois State Board of Education reveals that communities of color and low-income school districts are most likely to see teacher shortages. Of the 1,006 unfilled teacher positions in the state, 74% are in majority-minority school districts while 81% are in districts where the majority of students are low-income. 90% of vacancies are in underfunded school districts. These vacancies bolster an uncomfortable truth: Illinois’ marginalized students face more barriers to accessing high-quality education and supports.

The subjects with most teacher vacancies further illustrate that Illinois is underserving its most vulnerable students. Over half of the state’s unfilled teacher positions are in bilingual and Special Education, meaning English learners and students with special needs are less likely to have the supports they need, especially if they live in under-resourced districts with more low-income students or more students of color.

Regionally, subjects affected by teacher vacancies vary. Downstate, teacher vacancies affect a broad range of subjects. While 30% of teacher vacancies are in special education downstate, an additional 40% of vacancies are evenly distributed between science, math, foreign language, and bilingual education.

In collar counties, bilingual education (40% of vacancies) and special education (20%) have the greatest shortages. In Chicago, vacancies are split between special education (40%), bilingual (13%) and elementary education (13%), though Chicago suburbs have equal need in special education and bilingual (30% each).

In order to address teacher shortages throughout the state, Illinois must work to elevate the teacher profession and provide districts with the resources they need to attract, hire, and retain high-quality teachers. The state should consider student demographics as well as regional differences to best target resources and supports. Otherwise, the state will continue to perpetuate a lopsided education system where our most vulnerable students receive the least support. 



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Access to Early Education Varies by Region

Access to early childhood education is a key factor in students’ long-term academic persistence and success. Research shows that low-income students hear 30 million fewer words than their wealthier peers by age 3,(1) and students with access to high quality early education and kindergarten programs are better equipped to succeed in elementary school. When low-income students start behind, they face an upward battle to catch up. Providing access to high-quality, publically-funded education seats is key to closing opportunity gaps and enabling all students to reach their potential.

Illinois would need an additional 25,000 seats to serve all its low-income 3- and 4-year olds and has made little progress in expanding access to early education programs. While Illinois has 10,000 fewer low-income 3- and 4-year-olds than it did in 2009, it has cut nearly 20,000 early education seats.(2) But access varies by county. While Kane County needs an additional 2,500 seats to support its low-income

students, nearby Livingston County is well equipped to serve its low-income families. Increasing high-quality early education seats in counties with the greatest need will ensure more students are ready to succeed in kindergarten.

Expanding high quality, publically-funded early education programs is a necessary step to ensuring more students persist to and through postsecondary. When students start on track, it’s easier for them to stay on track. As the state rolls out new early education initiatives, it should consider regional needs and barriers to high quality early education, and target resources to districts with the greatest early education barriers.

(2) Illinois Early Childhood Access Map, 2015. This data includes PFA and Head Start seats exclusively.




For Data Desk features on school funding, click here.