Governor Signs Bill Addressing Need for Ag Teachers


Published on August 30 2017 9:22 am
Last Updated on August 30 2017 9:22 am


A newly created state task force soon will study the challenges that have Illinois high schools scrambling to find and retain agriculture teachers. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed SB 1991, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, and Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign. Illinois Farm Bureau supported the legislation.

Costello, chairman of the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee, recalled learning there were roughly 20 ag education graduates last year available to fill more than 80 open ag teacher positions Illinois.

“If we do not have an adequate number of agriculture education teachers, we will not be able to properly train future industry leaders here at home in Illinois,” Costello told FarmWeek.

“Agriculture and downstate Illinois are inseparable,” Bennett added. “We must recruit and retain qualified educators who want to teach agriculture programs for future generations.”

Under the bill, a state agriculture education task force is to assess numbers of Illinois ag teachers and openings and the number of Illinois ag education graduates. By Jan. 1, 2019, the task force is to recommend ways to recruit and retain ag teachers and possible reforms of teacher licensure and testing requirements.

For many years, ag education supporters have promoted and pursued avenues to grow education graduates, fill teacher vacancies and provide ag education to Illinois students. This year, the IAA Foundation, Illinois Farm Bureau’s charitable arm, is launching a new Illinois Agriculture Education Teacher Grant Program for ag teachers in their first year of teaching. 

Harrisburg High School agriculture teacher Nick James, president of the Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers, highlighted the increased turnover and movement among Illinois high school ag teachers with one in every seven teachers being new to his or her job.

“We want to ensure every ag program has a stable and qualified teacher to help our students succeed,” Harris said. “Our hope is to bring members of the General Assembly together with the task force to continue the investigation and identify programs to address the issue.”

Costello stressed a task force was needed to not only involve legislators, but to also tap the expertise of teachers and administrators.

“We are not the only state struggling with an agricultural education shortage, so I think the opportunity to assess our own testing requirements and incentives, such as loan forgiveness, is important,” Costello said. In addition, the state needs to evaluate effective incentives and programs in other states that teachers, administrators and Illinois State Board of Education may be familiar with, he added.

“The agriculture teacher shortage in Illinois has persisted for many years, but due to the involvement of numerous stakeholders we are gaining traction in our efforts to effectively address the problem,” said Jess Smithers, state coordinator for Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education. “The Agriculture Teacher Shortage Task Force will help ensure that the positive momentum continues so that we can meet the increasing demand for agriculture teachers.”