Question of the Month | March 2022
What recent laws have Midwestern states adopted to address concerns about short- or longer-term teacher shortages?
During the first few months of 2022, a number of legislative proposals were introduced in the Midwest’s states to to address teacher shortages — the continuation of a legislative trend seen in recent years. Here are three trends in this policy area from the Midwest.
Trend #1: The rise of ‘grow your own’ strategies
During her Condition of the State address earlier this year, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds unveiled what she said was a first-of-its-kind initiative in the nation — a registered apprenticeship grant program that gets high school students and paraeducators on a path to becoming certified teachers.
Through the use of American Rescue Plan Act dollars, Iowa is facilitating new partnerships between high schools, community colleges and four-year schools. High school students will get introduced to the teaching profession, get paid for their work as school aides, and have the opportunity to earn a paraeducator certificate and associate’s degree. Current paraeducators will get financial help in their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in education.
“The teachers of tomorrow are in our schools today,” Reynolds said. “Let’s give them a head start on their journey to one of the most rewarding careers.”
Similarly, states such as Minnesota and Illinois have added new dual-credit courses and career pathways to help recruit high school students to the teaching profession.
Earlier this year, the Illinois State Board of Education announced a $2.1 million “Grow Your Own” grant program for school districts. Grants will be prioritized for rural and low-income schools, which can use the grants to offer students courses and work-based learning opportunities related to teaching.
Another type of “grow your own” strategy is for districts to identify school employees and/or community members as potential teachers, and then provide financial assistance (sometimes with dollars from the state) to help these individuals become state-certified.
Minnesota funds district-led “grow your own” pathways for adults and high school students. Another goal in that state is to bring more people of color into the teaching profession, in part through the funding of district-led “grown your own” programs. Minnesota’s current K-12 education budget also is investing in improved mentorship programs and providing hiring bonuses to recruit minority teachers from out of state.
Other examples of “grow your own” strategies in the Midwest include:
• A scholarship program in North Dakota to help paraprofessionals become special education teachers; and
• New grant programs in Michigan to help school employees become licensed teachers ($10,000 per employee) and to introduce young people to the teaching profession ($2,500 per school).
Trend #2: Policy changes to expand a state’s pool of teachers — from new rules on who can be a substitute teacher to Indiana’s “adjunct teacher” proposal
Over the past year, one common legislative action has been to expand the pool of substitute teachers. These actions often are designed as short-term fixes, a response to many school districts reporting shortages since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ohio has temporarily removed a state-level bachelor’s-degree requirement for substitutes, most recently with the passage of SB 1 in fall 2021. School districts are now able to set their own educational requirements, and can hire anyone who passes a criminal background check and is “deemed to be of good moral character.”
During this school year in Michigan, individuals without a teaching certification, but who already work for the district, can be employed as substitutes (HB 4294 of 2021). Iowa (HF 675) and Kansas (executive branch action) are among the other states that have eased their requirements for substitute teachers over the past year.
In Illinois, one policy response has been to ease restrictions on the number of hours/days that a retired teacher can return to the classroom without losing retirement benefits. SB 1989, signed into law last year, removed a lifetime cap and made it yearly: 120 paid days or 600 paid hours.
Early in 2022, legislation was advancing (SB 3201) to temporarily raise that annual cap, to 150 days or 750 paid hours. And under a separate measure (SB 3465), retired Chicago Public Schools teachers could return to work, without a pension penalty, to fill positions in “subject shortage areas.” A similar exception already applies in other parts of Illinois.
This year in Indiana, legislators approved HB 1251, a measure allowing school districts to hire part- or full-time “adjunct teachers.” These individuals will not need to have a typical teacher’s license, but instead be eligible for a new state-issued permit. They also will not be subject to certain teacher-pay requirements or local collective bargaining agreements.
To qualify for the adjunct permit, a teacher will need “at least four years of experience in the content area in which the individual intends to teach.” Each adjunct teacher also would be assigned a mentor teacher by the school district “for support in pedagogy.”
Trend #3: Assistance for future, new and veteran teachers
Under legislation approved this year by the Illinois House, the state would reimburse public school teachers for the costs of college. According to a legislative fiscal note on HB 4139, an estimated 65,160 Illinois teachers, including 53,460 current teachers, would be eligible for the tuition-and-fee reimbursement. The estimated cost to the state for covering all eligible applicants: $1.4 billion over 18 years.
No Midwestern state has the kind of far-reaching assistance program for teachers envisioned under Illinois’ HB 4139. However, the more-targeted use of scholarships, loan forgiveness and repayments, tuition assistance or grants already is a common approach. Some examples:
• Illinois — A tuition waiver for individuals pursuing careers in special education.
• Indiana — The Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship, which provides $7,500 a year to high-achieving students pursuing a career in education.
• Iowa — The Teach Iowa Scholar program, which awards up to $20,000 for licensed teachers providing instruction in one of the state’s teacher-shortage areas.
• Minnesota — Loan repayments (up to $5,000 per person) for individuals who provide classroom instruction in a teacher shortage area in Minnesota. Shortages apply to specific subject areas and rural areas; in addition, teachers of color (regardless of where they teach) are eligible for the repayment.
• Wisconsin — Teachers are eligible for $5,000 in annual state grants (for up to nine years) if they have advanced, national certification and are working in one of Wisconsin’s high-poverty schools.
Under bills proposed in Nebraska this year, the state would spend $5 million a year on loan repayments for teachers (up to $25,000 per recipient under LB 945 and $30,000 under LB 1128). The state already uses a portion of its lottery proceeds for a loan-forgiveness program that assists individuals who major in a subject area with a shortage of teachers. These individuals receive $3,000 annually, for up to five years, for each year of teaching. Teachers working in a sparsely populated or higher-poverty school are eligible for up to $6,000 a year.
In South Dakota, legislation signed into law this year (HB 1308) will permit local school districts to offer signing bonuses or other incentives (tuition reimbursement or moving expenses) to teachers or other newly hired school employees.
Along with financial assistance and incentives, states can help newer teachers by improving their chances of success in the classroom. In Ohio, for example, during their first four years, teachers take part in a Resident Educator Program that includes intensive support from trained mentors.
And for veteran teachers, the use of career ladders is one option for limiting turnover in the profession. Iowa’s Teacher and Leadership Compensation (TLC) System is an oft-cited example of this approach. Teachers get extra pay for taking on additional leadership roles in their school buildings or districts — for example, mentoring newer teachers, serving as instructional coaches, incorporating new technologies into classrooms, or leading professional development training.
According to the Iowa Department of Education, every school district in Iowa has implemented a TLC plan, with almost 10,000 teachers serving in a leadership role of some kind.
Also in Iowa, for teachers who worked through the pandemic and who will be in classrooms next school year, the state will be providing a $1,000 bonus this year (funds are coming from the American Rescue Plan Act).
In recent years, too, at least two Midwestern states have established new minimum-pay thresholds for teachers: $40,000 in Illinois by the 2023-’24 school year (with inflation-adjusted adjustments in subsequent years) and $40,000 in Indiana. The Indiana law from 2021 (HB 1001) requires any school district not meeting the teacher-pay threshold to provide a written explanation to the state. Additionally, districts must use at least 45 percent of state school funding for teacher pay.