Newly-signed laws seek to address the state’s growing teacher shortage, and better prepare Illinois students for the demands of college and the workforce.

The “opt-in” phase of the state’s Automatic Voter Registration law also started during the week, allowing residents to update their voter status at local Department of Motor Vehicles facilities, with the information being sent immediately to election officials.

Addressing Illinois’ teacher shortage

In response to the state’s ongoing teacher shortage, House Bill 5627 will seek to help draw educators to Illinois, retain existing teachers and assist former teachers interested in returning to the classroom.  Proponents say the new law offers common-sense changes to help ease Illinois’ growing teacher shortage as legislators explore long-term solutions to the growing crisis.

To make it easier for educators from other states to work in Illinois, the new bipartisan law will make the licensure and regulatory process less burdensome for qualified teachers to help schools attract high-quality educators.  House Bill 5627 provides full reciprocity for out-of-state applicants seeking a Professional Educator License (PEL).

The measure also ensures that a teacher with a PEL or an Educator License with Stipulations (ELS) will not need an additional Substitute Teacher License to work as a substitute teacher, and Short-Term Substitute Teaching Licenses will be offered to qualifying applicants with an associate’s degree of 60 credit hours from a regionally accredited institution of higher learning.

Former teachers with a lapsed PEL due to incomplete professional development requirements will still be allowed to teach as a substitute under House Bill 5627, to attract former teachers who may not currently be teaching but are interested in getting back into the classroom.  In addition, for five years, retired teachers will be able to return to the classroom for 120 days or 600 hours per school year without affecting their retirement status.

Better responding to students’ diverse needs, skills

A state pilot program on competency-based graduation requirements was expanded under Senate Bill 2941, legislation recently signed into law that will place a greater emphasis on a student’s level and quality of education, as opposed to hours simply spent in a classroom.

The program allows schools to base graduation requirements on students’ knowledge and mastery of subjects as opposed to traditional “seat time,” or the number of hours spent in the classroom.  This allows schools to tailor instructional time to meet students’ needs and skills. The current program includes only grades 9-12; this expansion will allow schools serving all grade levels to take part.

The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate and the House, with advocates saying the program will help educators better understand how to respond to students’ diverse needs and skillsets.  Additionally, the program is thought to be more responsive to real-world college and career demands than the typical high school experience.

Phasing in Automatic Voter Registration

The Secretary of State’s office has started the “opt-in” voter registration at driver service facilities as part of the state’s new Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) law that was signed in August 2017.  The AVR was advanced as a way to both modernize and simplify the state’s voter registration process.

Though implementation of automatic voter registration won’t be complete in Illinois for another year, employees at the Secretary of State’s office’s driver service facilities are now checking the voter registration status of those seeking a new driver’s license or state IDs.  If an individual’s voter registration information is out of date, they will be given the option to electronically update their information.  The updated information will then be automatically sent to election authorities.

Illinois isn’t expected to fully implement the automatic voter registration processes until 2019.  In early 2019, the “opt-out” phase of the AVR implementation is anticipated to begin.  Residents will then be able to select one box on the application if they choose not to register.

It’s expected that by July 2019, the automatic voter registration law will ensure Illinois citizens can register to vote at other state agencies, such as the Department of Human Services or the Department of Natural Resources.  Opponents (like me) are concerned that this opens the door for Illinois voter fraud even further.