Illinois’s new minimum wage. The state’s teacher and sub shortage and the proposal to repeal the 3 percent cap on teacher salaries. The length of instructional days and what that means for e-learning.
Those were some of the subjects that local state legislators touched on Friday, March 15, during the second Education Matters legislative luncheon, which was sponsored by Yorkville Community Unit School District 115 and the Yorkville Education Association, at the Yorkville High School library.
Timothy Shimp, superintendent for Yorkville School District 115, said during the luncheon the main purpose of the event is to continue conversations with state legislators about issues that matter most to local students and staff and to encourage action at the state level.
“Without action, they’ll remain just that – only words,” Shimp said.
Lawmakers who attended the luncheon included State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris; State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego; State Senator Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield; and State Senator Sue Rezin, R-Morris. State Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, R-Kankakee, did not attend the luncheon but sent Justin Krolik, her communications director, to the event.
During the luncheon, district officials and faculty from schools in surrounding districts also asked about issues including schools building partnerships with the local business community, the impact of the new state superintendent’s evidence-based funding model and raising the maximum percentage of special education students to be placed in general education classrooms.
Wheeler said he thinks his seatmate – State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore – who was not at the luncheon – came up with a thoughtful approach to addressing the teacher shortage by proposing House Bill 3364, which would make students who already have obtained their bachelor’s degrees eligible for Monetary Award Program grants to go back to school for teaching certifications.
Bertino-Tarrant said she initially proposed Senate Bill 60 to repeal the 3 percent salary limit on state responsibility for pay raises that are used in pension calculations and revert it back to the previous 6 percent amount because a 3 percent maximum was just not a reasonable amount.
Wheeler said everyone’s living in the land of unintended consequences and other questions, such as what the state contribution number should be, need to be properly thought through. Ultimately, he said, the way he can best address the teacher shortage issue as a whole is to hear as many educator voices as possible so he knows how to best represent them on the House floor.
“My goal is to learn as much as I can about what you see right now,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler also said he did not vote in favor of the minimum wage increase that Gov. Pritzker passed and that there’s no data that exists currently that shows the impact of the six-year increase process. He said he recognized there was a need for a minimum wage increase of some sort, but he wasn’t thrilled with the lack of negotiation leading up to the bill being signed into law when there could’ve been a way to negotiate a longer time period for the $15 an hour minimum wage to go into effect.
Bertino-Tarrant, who voted for the minimum wage increase, said she recognizes that lawmakers on either side of the aisle have philosophical differences on the minimum wage debate.
Bertino-Tarrant said she’s aware the law as it stands won’t solve everything, but it’s a start. She said the reality is that there are professionals in education that have to work three part-time jobs to earn a living wage.
“Maybe it’s not our experience, but it’s somebody else’s experience,” Bertino-Tarrant, who is a former high school teacher, principal and superintendent, said.
Rachel Juarez, president of Yorkville Education Association, and Audrey Soglin, executive director of Illinois Education Association, also were on the panel during the luncheon.
Soglin said she absolutely wants to be part of the conversation on finding solutions to make sure teachers don’t end up with 40-student class sizes and fewer substitute teachers, but she believes the teacher shortage is a symptom of a career not being sustainable and lawmakers having to be mindful of as many possible unintended consequences as possible.
“To lower the standards with the idea that anyone can teach is really dangerous,” Soglin said.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker was invited to the luncheon but did not attend, as was the case for Carmen Ayala, the new superintendent for the Illinois State Board of Education, Shimp said. State Senator Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, who represents most of Yorkville as part of his district, also was not at the event.
Chris Mehochko, superintendent for the Grundy-Kendall Regional Office of Education, said as an attendee of the event that he is working with state lawmakers on Senate Bill 1371, which looks at school building security and helping to give teachers more options to protect their students by using temporary secondary door-locking devices during an active shooter situation without outright breaking current fire codes.
“I just want to encourage you guys to stay on top of that,” Mehochko said to the lawmakers on the panel.
Mehochko said after the event he was satisfied with the panelists talking about issues that are the most pertinent to education recently, including the state’s teacher shortage and addressing the different needs of rural districts as opposed to more urban districts.
“I think they touched on the major topics that we have” concerns about and interest in, Mehochko said.
Shimp said he was encouraged by the open dialogue between education officials and lawmakers during the event.
“As a school district, we are working hard to make sure those voices are heard at the state level,” Shimp said.