Would waive tuition for those who agree to teach in hard-to-staff schools

SciencePhoto350SPRINGFIELD – College students who agree to teach science, math and vocational education in hard-to-staff schools could get a substantial break on the cost of their education under a plan introduced by State Senator Andy Manar.

The proposal, which aims to get teachers into the pipeline and ease the statewide teacher shortage, received bipartisan support in the Senate Thursday and will move to the House for consideration.

“We have every reason to incentivize our young people to attend Illinois universities, earn Illinois degrees, put down roots in Illinois towns, teach in Illinois schools and contribute to the Illinois economy,” Manar (D-Bunker Hill) said. “This is a bold plan, and done correctly, it can make a real difference for school districts in central and southern Illinois communities where the teacher shortage has been extremely difficult to overcome.”

Senate Bill 3047 creates the Grow Your Own STEM and Vocational Education Teachers Act. Illinois public universities could waive tuition, fees and on-campus housing costs for students who agree to pursue bachelor’s or advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, math or agriculture and agree to teach related subjects in hard-to-staff Illinois schools.

They then would teach such subjects as math, natural sciences, and career and vocational education, including agriculture, technology, industrial arts, trades, health care and information technology. These are all subject areas for which many schools have difficulty filling teaching vacancies.

To take advantage of the offer, college students would have to maintain a 3.0 cumulative grade point average and also would be required to reimburse the university if they fail to teach at least three years in a K-12 school or five years at a college or university.

The legislation also creates the Create Your Own Dual Credit Teachers Program, which allows universities to waive tuition and fees for teachers who want to teach dual-credit courses in high school. Teachers must have a master’s degree and could pursue up to the maximum 18 graduate hours necessary to qualify to teach dual-credit courses. They would be required to teach at an Illinois high school at least five years and would have to fully reimburse the university if they breach the agreement.

The initiatives would be subject to annual appropriation, and the state could cap the number of students who are able to take advantage of the programs based on the need for teachers in Illinois from year to year. The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and its Education Foundation, as well as various statewide education organizations, support the legislation.

“Manufacturers applaud Senator Manar for helping address the skills gap that exists today in the workplace,” said Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “The Grow Your Own STEM Teachers Act will help ensure that we have the capacity in our schools to teach important vocational education.”

Manar agreed.

“We have to get more teachers into the pipeline and into classrooms,” Manar said. “With this plan, we can send a strong message that we’re willing to invest in our young people right here in Illinois, and we hope they’re willing to invest in us.”

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