While Illinois faces teacher shortages, a state grant attracts and retains agriculture teachers, according to a new statewide survey of school administrators and ag teachers.

“If you want to keep good ag teachers in a district and keep ag teachers teaching, this (grant) is an excellent tool. This is timely now because teachers are leaving teaching careers,” said Jay Solomonson, a teacher educator at Illinois State University (ISU) and one of two professors who conducted the survey.

The grant, known as the Three Circles Grant, matches a district’s funding to extend an ag teacher’s contract by three months.

During summers, ag teachers work with students on career-related projects known as a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) and as FFA advisers at state convention, contests and fairs.

In June and July, Solomonson and Steven Still, Southern Illinois University ag education assistant professor, sent surveys to every Illinois ag teacher and to administrators with ag programs in their districts. Recently, the professors shared preliminary results with the Illinois Leadership Council for Agricultural Education.

More than 70% of teacher respondents said longer contracts supported by a Three Circles Grant were a major factor in their decision to stay in their current teaching jobs.

“This (grant) is a huge factor for current teachers,” Solomonson noted.

Administrators felt even more strongly. A total of 80% of administrators responded that Three Circle Grants help them recruit and retain ag teachers.

Solomonson pointed out school districts are losing ag teachers to schools that offer extended contracts supported by the grants.

As for being paid for work in and outside of classrooms, teachers supported by the grants overwhelmingly responded they’re adequately compensated for teaching responsibilities (84%) and for FFA/SAE responsibilities outside the classroom (92%).

In comparison, 82% of ag teachers not supported by grants felt adequately compensated for teaching, while 73% responded they were adequately compensated for FFA/SAE responsibilities.

About three-fourths of teachers (76%) who aren’t supported by a grant responded they want one in their contracts.

And 71% of teachers without grant support responded it would increase FFA participation and 84% said it would increase SAE participation.

A local school district decides whether to seek a grant, which is funded by the ag education line item in the state budget.

But Solomonson wanted those involved in education to be aware of the potential funds.

“If you’re on a school board or work with a district, this is something ag teachers want, according to our survey. This is a way to get an ag teacher,” he said.

“As a teacher educator, my (ISU) students are aware (of the grants) when they are interviewing (for teaching jobs),” the professor said. “It’s a big factor for students on whether they take a position or not.”