According to reports and current issues in front of Illinois lawmakers, the state is grappling with a severe shortage of school personnel, impacting not only teachers but also; social workers, psychologists, counselors, and nurses. At a recent House Committee Hearing, representatives learned about the critical need for these essential professional positions in educational institutions and the challenges of finding the qualified recruits to fill them.

Teacher reading out to students in the library
Credit: Purestock

Why's finding qualified candidates so hard?

Tom Tebbe from the Illinois Association of School Social Workers talked about the common issues prevailing among the professions. He stated that a notable problem was the overwhelming majority of Caucasian social workers serving a diverse student population and that this lack of diversity hampers the ability to cater effectively to the needs of students from various cultural backgrounds. In addition, he explains a reluctance among graduates to work in rural areas, exacerbating the shortage in under-served regions. Financial support for minority candidates is also limited, making it difficult for individuals from diverse backgrounds to pursue these careers.

Teacher instructing class

Also noteworthy, the low pass rates for the educators' license test contribute to the lack of qualified professionals. The need for Spanish-speaking social workers is also apparent, as the student population with Spanish-speaking backgrounds continues to grow.

Teacher in class reading to students

To compound issues, school nurses face significant changes in their roles over the years. The University of Chicago's Professor Eileen Moss emphasized the critical role school nurses play in attending to students with chronic health conditions, making their presence indispensable and highly necessary in schools.

Credit: DGLimages
Credit: DGLimages

Reasons for the shortages in nursing vary but often include the cost of the specified degree, an overabundance of paperwork on the job, low job satisfaction, and a lack of desire to work in certain locales.

Getty Images

What's the plan going forward?

Several solutions have been proposed to combat the shortages and ensure students receive the support they need. Ideas include;

  • Offering scholarships and loan forgiveness programs for those willing to work in rural or low-income areas
  • Providing paid internships to attract individuals to these professions
  • Recruiting high school students to pursue careers in these fields
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The states goal is a comprehensive approach to address the underlying causes of the shortages in school personnel. They hope that by taking action to promote diversity, offer financial support, and improve job satisfaction, Illinois can bridge the gap and provide students with the necessary resources for their overall well-being and academic success.

multiracial university students graduation
Credit: michaeljung

Currently Bill 3798 has passed the House as recently as March 22nd of this year, but has yet to go before the house senate and be signed into law. The bill is outlined to do this:

Amends the State Board of Education Article of the School Code. Provides that, beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, all internships for school social workers must be paid internships. Provides that, subject to appropriation, the State Board of Education shall award competitive grants on an annual basis to school districts to assist in the funding of these paid internships. Provides that the State Board of Education shall annually disseminate a request for applications to the grant program. Provides that higher priority shall be given to schools that demonstrate a shortage of school social workers, which is determined by the average ratio of school social workers to students in the target school district over the preceding 3 school years. Provides that the State Board of Education shall produce an annual report on the program. Amends the Board of Higher Education Act. Provides that, subject to appropriation, the Board of Higher Education shall award competitive grants on an annual basis to colleges and universities in this State to fund field placements for social workers. Provides that, subject to appropriation, colleges and universities shall annually disseminate a request for applications from students under the grant program. Provides that colleges and universities, upon receiving funding, shall provide applications to students eligible for this funding. Provides that a college or university shall give priority to applicants who are members of a racial minority. Provides that each college or university that receives funds shall provide an annual report to the Board of Higher Education, and the Board of Higher Education shall post those reports on the Board's website. Effective immediately.

What can you do?

More information on this topic and details for involvement can be found here. House bill sponsors and cosponsors can also be reached there for comments or questions regarding this current legislation.

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