Illinois Lawmakers Consider Bill That Would Pay Student Teachers $10K but Actual Funding Unlikely

State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, D-Aurora, is pictured in a file photo on the Illinois House floor. (Capitol News Illinois file photo) State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, D-Aurora, is pictured in a file photo on the Illinois House floor. (Capitol News Illinois file photo)

It would cost the state an estimated $68 million to pay student teachers a stipend – a practice Illinois lawmakers like in theory, but not enough to pay for it.

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The juxtaposition highlights the tensions Illinois lawmakers face with weeks left before the end-of-month deadline to pass a new state budget.

It also spotlights what one lawmaker described as the General Assembly’s habit of treating expenses like Monopoly money.

Under the measure (House Bill 4652) that advanced Tuesday in the Illinois House, teachers in training would be paid $10,000 a semester while the licensed teachers who spend their time supervising and advising them would receive $2,000.

State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, D-Aurora, said paying student teachers could help close a teacher shortage.

“Nine other states are starting to offer paid student teaching programs,” said Rep. Laura Faver Dias, D-Grayslake, a former social studies teacher. “Teachers are having trouble completing their student teacher experience and never get their teacher license because they cannot afford to work for 16 weeks unpaid, many hours a week.”

The plan passed 85 to 23, but university students shouldn’t bank on getting paid for student teaching in the near future.

The proposal is “subject to appropriations” – meaning that it will only come to fruition if lawmakers specifically set aside money for it in the budget.

When asked during the House debate whether there will be money in the next spending plan, Hernandez said, “I do not think so. Unfortunately.”

Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, called it an “empty promise” that gives people a  “false sense of hope.”

Crespo, who voted for the measure and called it a “great idea,” said it’s as if the General Assembly is playing Monopoly.

The student teacher stipend isn’t a one-off.

Crespo noted that last spring a law passed (Public Act 103-0532) authorizing free breakfast and lunch for all school students.

But that, too, was “subject to appropriation” and the legislature did not appropriate the money for it. That means the Healthy School Meals for All program was only approved in theory and Illinois students did not receive free meals through it.

There’s an active campaign to include $209 million for it in next year’s budget.

Crespo pointed out that funding both the free student meals and student teacher stipends would together cost the state about a quarter billion dollars.

“You’re creating a line item and you’re putting pressure on the budget,” he said.

It’s nothing against a stipend for student teachers, Crespo said, but he said legislators need a better process for taking into account costs as they make new programs and laws.

“We can’t have it all. You can ask. But taxpayers can’t afford it. If we keep this up, at some point we’re going to run out of taxpayer dollars to spend,” Crespo said. “Nothing against the bill, but folks we need to take a step back. There needs to be a process and there needs to be some control.”

Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, said he too supports paying student teachers, but echoed Crespo’s concerns.

Illinois’ budget has grown by billions, even as programs with broad support, like Meals on Wheels for seniors and assistance for the developmentally disabled, continue to lack enough funding.

Keicher said a close inspection of Illinois’ spending is needed.

“If we resolve it, great ideas like this one are much easier to get in place,” he said during the teacher training stipend debate.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker in February introduced a budget that would spend nearly $53 billion. That does not cover either the free school meals or student teacher stipends, and a host of interest groups are lobbying for additional funding.

On Wednesday, Chicago Public School superintendent and Chicago Teachers Union leaders, including a couple hundred teachers, are traveling to the capitol to advocate that Illinois increase education funding by more than the $350 million bump Pritzker pitched for K-12 schools.

Contact Amanda Vinicky: @AmandaVinicky[email protected]

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