WASHINGTON – Today, Peoria, Rockford, Rock Island and Monmouth school officials joined the call for the RETAIN Act, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos’ (IL-17) bicameral bill to address the severe, nationwide shortages of early childhood and K-12 teachers. Introduced along with U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Tina Smith (D-MN), the RETAIN Actwould address teacher shortages that disproportionately impact students from low-income backgrounds and students of color.
“We sell our teachers short when we leave them underpaid and undervalued, and we sell our next generation short when we fail to build a strong education system for all of our children,” said Congresswoman Bustos. “Teacher shortages were a problem before COVID-19 hit, but the number of empty positions has continued to skyrocket, since the beginning of the pandemic. We must bolster efforts to recruit and retain our teachers, and I’m proud have the support of educators in Peoria, Rockford, Rock Island and Monmouth, who know first-hand how critical these next steps will be for our children.”
Exacerbated by low pay, school leadership instability, and poor teaching conditions, schools in low-income communities struggle to retain experienced, qualified education professionals. Teacher pay has also worsened in the past 20 years, and teachers in low-income schools are more underpaid than teachers in more affluent schools. The Retaining Educators Takes Added Investment Now (RETAIN) Act creates a fully refundable tax credit for teachers, paraprofessionals, mental health providers, and school leaders in Title I schools and educators, program providers, and program directors in head start, early head start, and Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funded early childhood education programs. The tax credit increases as these professionals become more experienced to incentivize retention.
“I support the RETAIN Act because it invests in teachers and paraprofessionals. I’ve seen so many colleagues who are excellent teachers leave the profession – especially over the last year – because of the long hours, lack of respect, and now, our own health is at risk. We need legislation like this to bring in new, dedicated teachers and to keep the ones who do this selfless work,” said Mary Fran Wessler, Peoria High School Paraprofessional.
“Every teacher I know takes money out of their own paycheck to purchase extra school supplies, help students in need, and make their school year a success. We work long hours, starting before the school day and finishing up parent calls or grading papers well into the evening. We cover other classes because there is both a teacher and sub shortage. Many of us could increase our salary by using our expertise in another field, but we love our students and our jobs. The RETAIN Act is a great step in giving educators the recognition we deserve,” said Matt McCaw, Peoria High School Math Teacher.
“Peoria Public Schools is fully supportive of this legislation. The RETAIN ACT will support in the retention of highly qualified and diverse staff who have been hired intentionally to mirror the schools’ demographics to meet the needs of children. The legislation also emphasizes that the teaching profession is a viable career path entrusted with one of the most important and rewarding roles in our society – making the lives of children the best it can be, especially in communities with the greatest need,” said Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, Superintendent, Peoria Public Schools.
“Staffing challenges are often the greatest in schools that have a high concentration of low-income students, and Rockford Public Schools continues to look for ways to attract and retain high-quality educators. The RETAIN Act would be a powerful tool for RPS 205 and districts across the country to help ensure educators working in Title I schools are financially supported with a fully refundable tax credit. As we invest in our educators, our students will ultimately benefit,” said Dr. Ehren Jarrett, Superintendent, Rockford Public Schools.
“I am in full support of the RETAIN ACT. It has the opportunity to serve as a catalyst in helping school districts meet the critical need of attracting and retaining effective educators who reflect the diversity of today’s student populations,” said Dr. Reginald L. Lawrence II, Superintendent, Rock Island – Milan School District #41.
“The teacher shortage is real and is likely to get worse due to the pandemic. Teaching is already a highly stressful vocation and the pandemic has made it even more difficult. Teachers are doing their best to provide their students with the best education they can under the most challenging of circumstances. Having to teach with masks and social distancing and to adopt remote learning practices, for which they were not trained, has created a stressful job even more stressful, especially for teachers near the end of their careers. In addition, the pandemic has hit schools in communities of color, often with the fewest resources, the hardest. The impact in these communities will be long lasting as the longer students are out of the classroom without access to adequate technology and interaction with educational professionals, the wider the achievement gap will become. One way to address the teaching shortage is to provide teachers with financial incentives to stay in the profession, such as tax credits. For this reason, I endorse the RETAIN Act,” said Dr. Michael Scarlett, Augustana College Education Department Chair.
“Monmouth College is closely involved with efforts to deal with teacher shortages, especially in rural school districts. Our schools are essential to the progress of our nation, and we are encouraged by efforts such as Congresswoman Bustos’ to invest in attracting and retaining quality teachers,” said Dr. Clarence R. Wyatt, President, Monmouth College.
According to federal data, the average teacher salary in 2016 was $58,950—though this obscures lower pay in less affluent school districts. The national median salary of Early Childhood Educator (ECE) teachers in 2015 was just $28,570 (qualifying many for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
Teacher pay is largely shaped by local tax revenue, and to receive modest increases, teachers must obtain expensive graduate degrees—adding student loan debt that dwarfs the accompanying pay raise. Further, schools consistently struggle to attract and retain effective teachers who reflect the diversity of students, particularly with respect to teachers who are African-American, Latino, and/or men. The current pandemic is expected to exacerbate these inequalities.
The following organizations support the RETAIN Act: AASA-The Superintendent Association; American Federation of Teachers; American School Counselor Association; Chicago Teachers Union; First Five Years Fund; Illinois Education Association; Illinois Federation of Teachers; Illinois Principals Association; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Association of School Psychologists; National Education Association; and the Service Employees International Union.