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August 20, 2003

Governor signs legislation to help ease state teacher shortage
New law assists 3,000 immigrant teachers

CHICAGO – With severe teacher shortages looming throughout the state, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation that will help more than 3,000 immigrant teachers to remain certified to teach in Illinois schools.


“While this bill will not solve our teacher shortage problem, it will go a long way to help,” Blagojevich said during an appearance at McCormick School in Chicago.  “With my signature, I am opening the doors of our schools to qualified immigrant teachers.  I welcome every one of them to resume their work of educating our children and investing in our state’s future.”


House Bill 3587 extends the amount of time immigrant teachers have to obtain U.S. citizenship from six years to 10 years, eliminating a bureaucratic roadblock that threatened many of their teaching careers.  Since the average waiting time between residence establishment and full citizenship is at least eight years, it was nearly impossible for immigrants to be approved before the six-year deadline.


“Sometimes in government you come across a law that just doesn’t make sense,” the governor said.  “In fact, some laws are so obviously flawed that you wonder how they could possibly have been enacted in the first place.  Today, we are fixing one such law.”


Illinois law previously stipulated that if an immigrant teacher had not become a U.S. citizen within six years from the time their teaching certificate was issued or, in some cases, eight years if the teacher applied for a two-year extension, the State Board of Education would cancel their certificate and the teacher would lose their job.


The new law signed by Blagojevich allows immigrant teachers to file a letter with the State Board of Education stating their intent to become a citizen within 10 years or at the earliest opportunity for which they are legally eligible to apply.


Blagojevich saluted immigrant teachers for their willingness to immediately give back to their communities as educators.  In attendance at the bill signing, were two Chicago elementary school teachers -- Vera Belousoza, who immigrated from Russia; and Maria DePilar Landa-Cabrera from Cuba.


The governor said the immigrant certification bill is one step that his administration has taken to address the teacher shortage problem.  Also this year, Blagojevich created the Illinois Future Teacher Corps – a program that provides $5,000 annual scholarships to college students who agree to teach five years in Illinois public schools in either shortage subject areas – such as reading, science or early childhood – or in geography regions of the state experiencing teacher shortages.  Scholarships of $10,000 per year are available to those students who teach in both subject and regional shortage areas.


The teacher certification legislation was sponsored by state Reps. Susana Mendoza, D-Chicago; Robin Kelly, D-Matteson; Maria Antonia Berrios, D-Chicago; William Delgado, D-Chicago; and Daniel Burke, D-Chicago; and state Sens. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood; Antonia Munoz, D-Chicago; Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills; Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago; and Iris Martinez, D-Chicago.


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