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SPRINGFIELD — More than 60 percent of Illinois public school districts have a starting annual salary for teachers of less than $40,000.

That could change as both chambers of the General Assembly consider bills that would set $40,000 as the minimum salary for a teacher.

Advocates say House Bill 2078, sponsored by state Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, and approved Tuesday by the House, would help remedy the state’s growing teacher shortage.

“There’s not just one issue why we don’t have teachers, but the pay certainly is a big part of it” Stuart said in floor debate Tuesday.

In a March survey by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents, 85 percent of responding school districts had major or minor problems with teacher shortages.

The problems were pronounced in Central and Southern Illinois, where about 90 percent of responding districts said they had trouble finding qualified teachers to fill positions.

While opponents of Stuart’s bill recognize the shortage, they argue that many school districts would have to lay off employees, cut programs or increase classroom sizes to accommodate a salary increase.

For the state’s neediest school districts, “it is not the case that passing this bill will allow them to pay teachers more,” said state Rep. Avery Bourne, a Republican from Raymond.

Bourne said while “no one disputes the intent” behind the bill, it does not account for regional differences in the state, and the finances of school districts with lower property wealth with which to fund spending.

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Under Stuart’s bill, the salary increases would occur in steps, starting at just more than $32,000 for the 2020-21 school year and reaching $40,000 by 2023-24.

State Rep. Kathleen Willis, a Democrat from Addison, said even the $32,000 figure equates to only about $16 an hour for a full-time employee.

State teachers should start with a salary that is not “an insult to the amount of work” they do, Willis said.

Anne Stava-Murray, a Democrat from Naperville, agreed, saying it’s “absolutely criminal that we could have a full-time working mother relying on government subsidies because her school district job doesn’t pay enough to pay the bills and feed her family.”

Stuart said the reason more than 60 percent of school districts have minimum salaries below $40,000 is because the state’s teacher salary laws date back to the 1980s, and range from only $9,000 to $11,000.

A bill similar to Stuart’s passed both chambers last year, but was vetoed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

HB 2078 passed by a vote of 79-31, and is now headed to the Senate for consideration.

The Senate, however, has its own bill raising the minimum teaching salary in the state to $40,000.

Senate Bill 10, sponsored by Bunker Hill Democrat Andy Manar, also would require a financial impact study. The legislation was slated for a third and final reading Wednesday night, but had not yet been called prior to press time.

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