FILE - Don DeWitte, Illinois, 2019
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A proposal that would give teachers still in college an additional year of state aid in exchange for committing to teach in Illinois for three years is scheduled for what could be a contentious hearing. 

State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1809. If enacted, the measure would extend Monetary Award Program grant funding to the extra schooling teachers must get before being certified with the state, but only if they agree to work at an Illinois school for at least three of their next five years.

Illinois’ Monetary Award Program grants low-income college students tuition assistance. It’s a finite pool of money that’s awarded by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. State lawmakers decide the amount of taxpayer funds annually in the budget. Students apply and get assistance based on their ability to pay. 

In 2018, $316 million was allocated to about 122,000 students. In the fiscal 2019 budget, $401 million was split among 130,000 students, according to ISAC's records. More students apply for aid than funds are available. 

Students are disqualified for funding if they have already accumulated more than 135 credit hours of collegiate education or already have a bachelor’s degree, both of which would exclude teachers looking to finish their final year of educational training to be a certified teacher in Illinois. 

“Is this the cure-all? Obviously not, but it’s nothing more than an attempt to try to move the needle,” DeWitte said. 

While the bill was nearly unanimously supported in the Senate, it faced opposition from state agencies and advocates. 

“I think this is a really well-intentioned bill and I appreciate Sen. DeWitt’s creative thinking on an important issue,” said Robin Steans, president of Advance Illinois, a nonprofit that focuses on equity in education. “I really have two concerns; one, we want to make sure that we are not unwittingly cannibalizing the pipeline that we need at the two-and-four year college level and two; we have some concerns about whether MAP is the right mechanism for getting additional financial support to teaching candidates.” 

DeWitte said ISAC estimated that the change would generate up to $1.5 million in additional demand for MAP grant funding. Legislation was recently enacted that would allow those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, classification to get MAP assistance.

"SB 1809 would...shift dollars to a new group (people who’ve had four years of aid and may even hold a degree) when we’re not serving all the undergraduates the program was created to help," said Lynne Baker, ISAC's managing director of communications. "Our rough estimate is that this proposal could help about 1,300 aspiring teachers who’ve already used four years of aid at the expense of helping around 5,000 new community college students who are trying to go to college for the first time."

Baker said ISAC understands the need for more teachers and has offered several alternative approaches it said could get off the ground quickly and cleanly, including a program similar to this proposal that doesn't use MAP dollars.

Beyond lawmakers, it also has the support of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, one of the state’s most influential unions.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Higher Education Committee on Tuesday.

This article originally ran on thecentersquare.com.

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