JONESBORO — Supporters of Marsha Griffin's Republican challenger are saying Griffin taught for five months on a lapsed license, an action they say could have cost her school district state and federal funding.
Aaron DeGroot, a spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party, said Griffin is touting her teaching credentials, but that she was risking the district losing valuable funding for its programming, especially its federal Title I funding, which goes toward disadvantaged students.
"The state statutes said that to teach at a public school in the state of Illinois, (teachers) must be properly licensed, and she was not fully licensed as required by statute," DeGroot said.
Griffin, who has taught for 10 years in the Jonesboro school system, decried DeGroot's assertion, saying the lapse did not jeopardize school funding and the attention on the issue was politically motivated.
Griffin is trying to unseat Bryant, a woman for whom she once campaigned, according to a post and pictures on Griffin's Facebook campaign page. Griffin said she wanted to run to unseat Bryant, who Griffin says is no longer speaking on behalf of those whom she was elected to serve and refrained from voting 80 times during her first term in office.
The state education department's Educator Licensure Information System (ELIS) records show that Griffin's teaching license lapsed on Sept. 1, 2015, and was reinstated Feb. 4, 2016. The renewed license expires in February 2021.
Griffin denied that her lapsed license jeopardized the school district's ability to receive state and federal funding.
"That is a fallacy," Griffin said.
Griffin said the system did not record nine credit hours of master's work she had completed, which, once she was made aware of the lapsed license this past February, she corrected. She earned her master's degree a few years ago from the American College of Education.
"It was corrected in a matter of two days," Griffin said. "This issue actually happened to several teachers, and this in no way impacted my teaching instruction."
Several other educators across the state have had their licenses lapse, many unknowingly, because of a change in state laws changing the expiration dates of teaching licenses, said Donna Boros, superintendent of the Regional Office of Education No. 30.
She said ROEs like hers typically alert educators and school districts of those teachers whose licenses are about to expire, but that did not happen here, possibly for several reasons.
The ROE of which Griffin's school district was a part has consolidated services with the ROE that Boros leads. Additionally, the state education department introduced the new system, ELIS, which had several kinks and bugs and was not generating reports for ROE staff to effectively communicate pending expirations or lapses, Boros said. Some teachers, she'd heard, even received ELIS messages about pending expiring licenses in their email's spam folder.
"We tried to find out when the people are going to be in trouble and give them a heads-up, but we weren’t getting reports from the system in any way to do that and were doing that manually," Boros said.
Ultimately, though, the person responsible for ensuring the update or renewal of a teaching license is the educator himself or herself, Boros said.
Boros also would not say definitely whether a lapsed teaching license would or would not lead to the jeopardizing of state or federal funding.
As far as the State Education Department is concerned, the issue has been resolved and no punitive actions are pending, according to spokeswoman Jackie Matthews. As long as an educator had a valid license when the district applied for funding, there would also be no penalty, she said.
"Our primary goal is to work with the Regional Office of Education to resolve issues like this, but it looks like it’s just been resolved," she said.