One State Is Moving To Reimburse Teachers For College Tuition And Fees

A monumental bill could solve the Illinois teachers shortage through incentivized college reimbursements, but how much will it cost taxpayers?

By Erika Hanson | Published

National Teacher Unions Have Lost 200,000 Members

illinois teachers

An Illinois bill passed through the House of Representatives last Wednesday that has Illinois teachers and unions full support. House bill 4139 looks to reimburse teachers for college tuition and fees. However, the proposed bill is met with harsh criticism from Republican proponents regarding the needed funds to back the proposal.

On Wednesday, the House passed the bill. Making its way next to the Senate, bill 4139 made its way through the house with a 70-42 vote regardless of any support from the state’s Republican constituents. Supported by the state’s major Illinois teachers’ unions, the reimbursements are intended to promote the retention of teachers within the state. The caveat, however, comes from Republicans questioning not only where the funds will come from, but how it would account for wealthy students that may have not had to pay for their own education. 

Those in favor of the bill point to the state education crisis regarding the shortage of Illinois teachers. According to Illinois State Board of Education data, there are 1,703 unfilled teaching positions across 852 school districts in Illinois. The proposed legislation would incent those who studied to become teachers at Illinois universities that likewise found teaching jobs within the state. 

The proposed bill detailed how the program would be laid out. Illinois teacher applicants would have to have attended a public Illinois university along with a state-approved educator program. If employed at a public school within the state and after all requirements are met, they could receive one-tenth of the amount they paid in tuition and fees for up to 10 years. To put this into perspective, let’s estimate an Illinois teacher paid $50,000 in tuition costs. Therefore, they would receive a $5,000 reimbursement once a year, on top of the ten percent allotted for certification fees. 

illinois teachers

For scrutiny, applicants would be required to provide documentation for any expenses. Furthermore, the plan outlines that Illinois teachers would be reimbursed for up to eight semesters or 12 quarters. Representative Sue Scherer is a retired teacher in the state that supports the bill for Illinois teachers. Seeing the reeling effects the pandemic and state of the nation have had on teachers, she feels the bill is a needed measure to save the state’s public schools. “I’m a retired teacher of 35 years, and my heart is broken when I go to high schools in my community. I see a gymnasium full of students without teachers because it seems to me many people have a reason to turn a blind eye to the teacher shortage,” she said. 

Will Guzzardi, a Democrat representative from Chicago has also felt the turmoil of the Illinois teacher shortages as he also backs the bill. At last week’s House hearing, Guzzardi reiterated the tribulations classrooms throughout Chicago have suffered during this time. “I have principals who are going into the second-grade classroom and teaching second grade because they just can’t get enough substitute teachers to cover,” Guzzardi said.

With no support from Republicans, opposers of the bill believe it to be far too costly to taxpayers. Representative Avery Bourne expressed concerns over the cost and requested a fiscal note on the bill to show the estimated price tag. If approved, it would require a whopping $1.4 billion over an 18-year time span. In 2023 alone, it would cost roughly $88.3 million extra to Illinois taxpayers. To make matters worse, Republicans believe the bill could send reimbursement funds into the wrong hands of certain teachers that may have never even funded their own education. As the debate continues, the bill will next head to the Senate floor for further review and discussion.