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Opponents of teacher minimum wage bill say local school boards should set pay

By Greg Bishop
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker could soon be asked to sign bills that would set the minimum salary for teachers at $40,000 a year by the 2023 school year, a decision the governor said he’d make by examining the issue through the lens of “working families.”

Opponents of the minimum wage idea argue that locally elected school boards should decide how much teachers get paid, not the state. They also say the added costs would eat up any new revenue the state sends to school districts. Most school districts get the majority of their funding from local property taxes.

Both the Illinois Senate and House passed versions of a bill that would make $40,000 the floor for teacher pay, signaling the idea could soon arrive on Pritzker’s desk.

Senate Bill 10, sponsored by state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, passed 45-11 earlier this month. House Bill 2078, sponsored by state Rep. Katie Stuart, passed 79-31 a few days before that. The measures would over several years increase the minimum salary for an Illinois teacher to $40,000 by the 2023 school year.

Supporters of the measure say the minimum salary of $9,000 for teachers hasn’t been updated in state statute for decades. The average teacher salary in Illinois was $65,721 in 2018, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

Consumer finance website WalletHub ranked Illinois the fourth best state in the nation for teachers overall. Among the metrics it used to rank the states was highest starting salaries. Illinois ranked No. 11 on that metric.

The Illinois School Management Alliance, which represents school boards, administrators, business officials and principals, opposed both minimum salary bills.

“Even with the proposed phase-in of the new minimum salaries; this onerous unfunded mandate will consume a large percentage of any new [funding] provided under the new evidence-based formula, usurps the local control for local school districts, and undermines the collective bargaining process,” the alliance wrote in a post on its website.

Pritzker said his focus will remain on working families when he was asked about what local contract issues the state should decide for school districts

“Here’s what you should pay attention to: This administration has been all about standing up for working families,” Pritzker said. “We’re going to review legislation with that as the lens for which we make any decisions.”

State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Louisville, opposed the idea. As a former school board member, he said it’s simple: Local economies should determine local wages.

“A lot of schools in my area are looking forward to this new evidence-based funding money that’s coming in, [but] that money is already gone,” Bailey said. “That money is gone with the minimum wage bill. That money is gone now with the teacher minimum wage bill.”

In 2017, lawmakers passed a new public school funding formula to determine how much more of an increase certain school districts would get in funds from state taxpayers. But Pritzker signed a law in February to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025 without consideration for different economic realities on the ground throughout the state. Opponents of that statewide minimum wage raised concerns that it would not only increase the cost of business, but also increase the cost of government services.

“Everybody wants to pay people more, we all do, but this is the way our society works,” Bailey said. “Local economy should determine local wages.”

Other opponents have said the teacher minimum wage measure will lead to higher public school costs and, in turn, higher property taxes for local residents.

Both the House and Senate could take up measures to send to the governor when they return next week.

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