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Panel aims to address shrinking population of school support personnel

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(The Center Square) – School support workers are asking Illinois lawmakers to address a personnel shortage in their respective fields.

Speech pathologists, counselors, nurses and social workers were among the groups represented at a recent Illinois House Higher Education Committee hearing.

Carrie Emrikson of the Illinois School Psychologists Association said psychologists and nurses are the most under-produced categories of educators.

“And since the COVID-19 shutdown, this problem has only exacerbated. Even our own national association of psychologists shows that Illinois’ gaps are worsening instead of improving,” Emrikson said.

Emrikson urged lawmakers to consider more funding.

One proposal under consideration is House Bill 5492. The measure would establish paid internship and scholarship programs, subject to appropriation, for students in school support fields.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, said the shortage is spiraling downward.

“The workload makes things very difficult for everybody in the various positions, which leads people to leave, which leads to more workload,” Stuart said.

Speech language pathologist Karen Kockler said there are solutions in the areas of training and recruitment, which would require little or no funding.

“First of all, universities and external practicum sites could share supervision responsibilities to ease burdens for both parties,” Kockler said.

Kockler also suggested non-financial incentives for external practicum sites to accept students. Kockler added that many pathologists leave or do not seek employment in schools because administrators do not follow state code for special-educator workloads.