Teacher Tenure, Dismissal and Evaluation Legislative Updates
This school year has begun with a number of changes related to teacher tenure, evaluations, and dismissals. On August 4, 2023, Governor Pritzker signed into law Public Act 103-0500, revising the Illinois School Code provisions regarding teacher tenure, particularly as it relates to the length of the probationary period, as well as non-renewal and honorable dismissal (“RIF”) notice deadlines. Separately, Public Act 103-0085 amends Sections 24A and 34 of the School Code as they relate to retirement evaluations and Public Act 103-0549 amends Section 24-14 of the School Code as it relates to teacher resignations. We summarize below the key takeaways from these various Acts.
For purposes of determining when a teacher may acquire tenure, Public Act 103-0500 effectively splits teachers into two major categories: those who were first employed by a school district as a full-time teacher after the PERA implementation date but before July 1, 2023; and those who were first employed by a school district on or after July 1, 2023. We include below a summary of the key changes for these two categories of teachers.
Teachers Hired Before July 1, 2023:
Accelerated Tenure. Most significantly, the Act changes the requirements for teachers hired before July 1, 2023 to be eligible to obtain “accelerated tenure” after three consecutive school terms of service rather than four school terms. Prior to the Act, teachers were eligible to obtain tenure if they completed three consecutive school terms of service and received three overall annual evaluation ratings of “Excellent.” Now, teachers completing three consecutive school terms of service may be eligible to acquire tenure if they receive two Excellent ratings in that three consecutive school term period. Questions have been raised as to the retroactive impact of this change, specifically whether a teacher who just completed their third term of service prior to July 1, 2023 with two of their three evaluation ratings being excellent would now have acquired tenure as a result of the new law. We are continuing to review this issue, but believe that such a teacher would not have acquired tenure under the new law and rather would be considered and evaluated as a 4th year probationary teacher in the 2023-2024 school year. We currently think is the best interpretation in light of the Act’s effective date, however recognizing the questions and differing interpretations surrounding this particular change, we encourage districts to consult with legal counsel regarding its applicability to current probationary teachers.
Professional Educator License The legislature also made clear through the Act that only those teachers who hold a Professional Educator License (“PEL”) are eligible for tenure.
Tenure Acquisition. The other tenure acquisition provisions are unchanged for teachers hired before July 1, 2023, except for the non-renewal date change explained below. Thus, for full-time teachers hired between a District’s PERA implementation date but before July 1, 2023, the probationary period is as follows (unless a teacher is given written notice of dismissal as set forth below):
- 4 consecutive school terms of service in which the teacher holds a PEL AND receives overall annual evaluation ratings of at least “Proficient” in the last school term and at least “Proficient” in either the second or third school terms;
- 3 consecutive school terms of service in which the teacher holds a PEL AND receives 2 overall annual evaluations of “Excellent;” or
- 2 consecutive school terms of service in which the teacher holds a PEL and receives 2 overall annual evaluations of “Excellent” but only if the teacher:
- Previously attained tenure in a different school district or program in the State,
- Voluntarily departed or was honorably dismissed from that school district or program in the school term immediately prior to the teacher’s first school term of service in the current district, and
- Received, in his or her most 2 recent overall annual or biennial evaluations from the prior school district or program, ratings of at least “Proficient,” with both such ratings occurring after the school district’s or program’s PERA implementation date.
Teachers Hired on or After July 1, 2023:
For teachers first employed as full-time teachers in a district or program on or after July 1, 2023, probationary periods have been shortened to allow such teachers to acquire tenure in just three years so long as they have at least a “proficient” rating in their last two school terms. Teachers completing two consecutive terms of full-time service with two “excellent” ratings are now eligible for “accelerated tenure,” whereas previously such teachers were only eligible to attain tenure in two years if they also met the tenure portability requirements.
Tenure Acquisition. Probationary periods for teachers first employed as full-time teachers in a district or program on or after July 1, 2023 are now as follows (unless a teacher is given written notice of dismissal as set forth below):
- 3 consecutive school terms of service in which the teacher holds a PEL and receives overall annual evaluation ratings of at least “Proficient” in the second and third school terms; or
- 2 consecutive school terms of service in which the teacher holds a PEL AND receives 2 overall annual evaluation ratings of “Excellent.”
- Portable tenure: the existing portable tenure rules that allowed a teacher to acquire tenure with just two Excellent evaluation ratings after leaving a prior school district with tenure remain, but appear to have been rendered moot by the accelerated tenure changes.
Non-Renewal and Honorable Dismissal Notice Deadlines
Prior to Public Act 103-0500, the School Code provided that a notice for non-renewal or an honorable dismissal must be provided to an employee at least 45 days before the end of the school term. Beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, a school district must provide written notice for honorable dismissals (reduction-in-force) and probationary non-renewals on or before April 15. This change applies to all teachers, regardless of their date of first employment. This change is likely to be welcomed by school districts as it disposes of the annual practice of determining the 45-day period for purposes of complying with the School Code. Notably, however, if your collective bargaining agreement requires notice to be provided at least 45-days prior to the last student attendance day, notice should be provided by the earlier of the two dates. We recommend reviewing your agreements for any such contract language and consider proposing updates in light of this new change.
Public Act 103-0549 amends Section 24-14 of the School Code and now aligns teacher resignation rules for both probationary and tenured teachers. Specifically, teachers (regardless of tenure status) must submit a written resignation notice to the secretary of the board a minimum of 30 calendar days prior to the first student attendance day of the following school year. If a teacher fails to do so, the teacher will be deemed to have resigned during the school term, subjecting the teacher to licensure revocation proceedings if the board of education contests the resignation.
Retirement and Evaluations
Lastly, Public Act 103-0085 amends sections 24A and 34 of the School Code regarding evaluations of teachers who are on an established path to retirement. Now, teachers who are due to be evaluated in the last year of employment before they are set to retire must be offered the opportunity to waive their evaluation and to retain their most recent rating, unless the teacher was last rated as “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory.” However, the school district may still reserve the right to evaluate a teacher, provided the district gives notice to the teacher at least 14 days before the evaluation and a reason for evaluating the teacher.