Illinois teachers get no respect from state government
Illinois has been using its teachers as a piggy bank.
Teacher Appreciation Week started May 8 across the United States.
It’s a time to thank the men and women shaping the lives of millions of children each day. Those grading the 30th comparative essay of the night. Those making 5 a.m. tweaks to five individualized lesson plans. Those of little sleep and endless patience.
And those of little importance to Illinois state government.
Here are three ways in which Illinois lawmakers are failing teachers and the families who rely on them.
No. 1: Politicians think they know how to teach
Members of the Illinois House of Representatives passed House Bill 2977 on April 26. It would mandate cursive writing instruction in both public elementary schools and high schools. The bill was introduced by state Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Hillside, who said he was compelled to file the bill because of a dinnertime conversation with his wife.
“I was stunned,” Jill Schultz said about hearing news of the proposal. She’s been teaching English anguage arts in Batavia at Rotolo Middle School for nearly 30 years. “I see absolutely no logical reason for it. It’s an archaic skill.”
Schultz noted that Illinois educators already have their hands full teaching what state lawmakers deemed the best curriculum: Common Core. But Common Core doesn’t tell teachers to spend scarce instructional time on cursive writing. And certainly not in high school.
The cursive move is classic Springfield. Not only are teachers already swamped in red tape, but also the new mandate takes away decisions that are best left in the hands of educators.
No. 2 Politicians destroyed the teacher retirement system
Illinois teachers are trapped.
The defined-benefit pension system offers no voice to its members, no exit for those worried about their pensions’ solvency and no hope for young teachers. Politicians first duped the Illinois teaching community by growing pension benefits at a rate way out of line with the rest of the economy and other states. Predictably, those same politicians couldn’t keep up their charade and the debt piled up.
Now that’s all coming home to roost.
Older teachers are worried about whether Illinois can keep its retirement promises. And younger teachers are already suffering. Under the “Tier 2” plan, they’re forced to sacrifice a massive chunk of their paychecks to bail out a busted scheme.
It’s a terrible deal. And new teachers shouldn’t have to accept it.
A young white-collar professional will rack up some healthy retirement savings after a five-year stint at ADM in Decatur, for example. But a new teacher looking at Decatur Public Schools? Not a chance. If she stays in the district for less than 10 years, she gets back her contributions toward retirement and nothing else.
“Illinois has been using its teachers as a piggy bank,” wrote researchers for consulting firm Bellwether Education Partners in a 2014 report.
“The state estimates that 62 percent of its new teachers won’t make it to  years, meaning Illinois will be forcibly taking no-interest loans from the majority of new teachers.”
Politicians refuse to grant teachers the flexibility and security of a self-managed, defined-contribution retirement plan. Instead, they’re riding the old, flawed system into the ground – all at the expense of an entire generation of new educators.
No. 3: Politicians think all teachers are the same
Remember that summer you got the news? The news you’d be getting the teacher you always wanted? The teacher everyone loved and respected?
Now, do you remember the times you learned you’d be stuck with a bad apple for the year? Or worse, your child would be?
Everyone knows those feelings. They reflect a plain reality: not all teachers are the same. Some teachers are extraordinary. They deserve extraordinary pay. Others are not. And they should start out with lower pay until they polish their skills and demonstrate value to students and parents.
But that’s not how teacher pay works in Illinois. Instead, educators are herded into neat “steps and lanes” that take into account years of teaching and hours of ongoing education.
Neither of these measures reflects the true value of a teacher.
After all, that’s not how administrators are treated. District superintendents, for example, negotiate their own pay and benefits.
That brings us to another disparity. Redundant administrative costs are sucking money out of classrooms and the community at large. Nearly 1 in 4 Illinois school districts serve just one school. Over one-third of all school districts serve fewer than 600 students. While teachers are often stuck paying out of pocket for basic classroom resources, redundant overhead costs at the district level are sucking up scarce resources.
These bloated bureaucracies are an insult to Illinois educators.
So this Teacher Appreciation Week, make sure to take time to thank the teachers who have made your life better.
Then write your state lawmaker who has made their lives worse.