• NASW-IL Staff

Learn More About School Social Work Workforce Bill SB2071

Updated: Apr 22


In recent weeks, the NASW-Illinois Chapter has been receiving an uptick of correspondence surrounding a school social work workforce bill, SB2071, from those within and outside of the membership. This bill, which we support, is sponsored by Illinois State Senator Cristina Castro and aims to address a vital workforce shortage of school social workers in Illinois by creating an alternative path to earning the Professional Educator License endorsed for School Support Personnel without having to take on additional college debt. This bill, which passed out of committee on a bipartisan basis, is working its way through the Illinois Senate and will remove a substantial financial hurdle for many licensed social workers—particularly those in BIPOC communities—who are looking to become school social workers.


If you have questions about SB2071 and why the chapter supports it, please take some time to review our below article. We hope that it helps to clear up some of the confusion and misinformation that is currently being spread about the bill and our support of it.


If you'd like to read more about the NASW-Illinois Chapter's legislative efforts, please visit the chapter "News" tab and click on the "Advocacy" sub-tab. Here you’ll find all of our latest news including a recent advocacy update and movements on the many bills—including SB2071—which the NASW-Illinois Chapter is currently tracking.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, with over 120,000 members. The NASW-Illinois Chapter (NASW-IL) is one of the association’s largest chapters and represents over 20,000 social workers and school social workers from all practice areas of the social work profession in Illinois. It is the NASW-Illinois Chapter’s responsibility to advocate on behalf of all social workers in our state. Our legislative advocacy is consistent with the chapter’s legislative agenda which has been informed by a number of sources including: recommendations made by NASW-IL Task Force on Racial Justice; a comprehensive, grant-funded evaluation of the social work workforce conducted in 2020; and the policy statements listed in Social Work Speaks which is developed by the NASW Delegate Assembly, the association’s key policymaking body.


Based and informed by these guiding documents, we currently support SB2071, sponsored by Illinois State Senator Cristina Castro. This bill aims to address the current Illinois workforce shortage of school social workers by creating analternative path that doesn’t require taking on additional student debt to those who are already licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) or master’s of social work–licensed social workers (MSW-licensed LSWs) and who wish to pivot careers by earning the Professional Educator License endorsed for School Support Personnel (PEL School Social Worker). In combination with SB661 (social worker PEL scholarships) and SB662 (loan forgiveness for school social workers), this trio of bills aim to remove the significant financial hurdle that prevents many social workers and social work students from becoming a school social worker despite a growing need for them statewide.


Unfortunately, most of the opposition to SB2071 has been based on misinformation and a desire to restrict the market for institutional and private financial gain. There are real workforce issues in Illinois, and there is a real desire to expand mental health services in schools. As a state and as a profession, we cannot allow these jobs to remain unfilled and to continue denying students access to mental healthcare.


We also need to stop pushing the belief that higher student debt is the only path to competency. Not everyone in social work is privileged enough to be in a position where returning to graduate school is an option. This burden disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) social workers and communities, and there should be an alternative path for those individuals to join the workforce as well.


What does SB2071 do?

Currently in Illinois, the state requires all MSWs who did not have the foresight to earn the school social work specialty while attending graduate school must return to school to attend a post-MSW PEL program. These programs require the individual to take 2 additional courses and complete an internship. This is the current path for many individuals who earned a social work degree to becoming credentialed as a school social worker, and this path will continue to be available and an option for those who can afford to take on additional graduate school debt. In fact, another NASW-IL initiative sponsored by Illinois State Senator Ann Gillespie creates a scholarship program that prioritizes minority candidates to help reduce the cost of a post-MSW PEL program.

For those for whom additional debt and an internship may represent a challenge, SB2071 offers them a path—albeit a much longer one—to becoming a school social worker that doesn’t require returning to graduate school and accruing more tuition debt.


Under SB2071, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) will work with stakeholders and school districts to identify the essential training needed to transition LCSWs and MSW-licensed LSWs into school social workers. There is also the additional requirement that these trainees be required to work under direct supervision of a traditional PEL school social worker for a set period of years (NASW proposes 3 years) so that they can be trained and mentored before becoming eligible to apply for the PEL School Social Worker endorsement.


We understand that not every group agrees that an alternative to additional graduate work/student debt is acceptable. However, it is NASW-IL’s position that we can create an alternative route to earning the PEL School Social Worker endorsement for those who have already earned their LCSW/MSW-licensed LSW and thereby quickly addressing the current workforce shortage of school social workers in Illinois schools.


How will the requirements for an alternative path be determined?

Illinois uses a process of rulemaking that allows the governing body to write the rules and regulations around legislation. As with other bills, ISBE will work with stakeholders to determine the training requirements needed to transition LCSWs/MSW-licensed LSWs into school social workers. It will also establish the time and requirements that a transitional social worker must work under direct supervision of an existing PEL school social worker. Following rulemaking, the proposed rules would be submitted for public comment. After a period of public comment, rules can be amended and the sent to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) for vote.


ISBE requested the flexibility of being able to write these guidelines rather than codifying them into law as rules gives them greater flexibility of adding new requirements if needed. At several points, the bill sponsor and NASW-IL have invited the Illinois Association of School Social Workers (IASSW) and its lobbyist to actively communicate their opinion and preferred language regarding requirements. As of the time of this document, no such language has been submitted.


Will SB2071 replace the PEL school social worker?


No. SB2071 only creates an alternative to the post-MSW PEL graduate program which is cost-prohibitive to many. Upon completing the requirements to this alternative path, a candidate would still have to apply for and complete all additional requirements for earning the PEL School Social Worker endorsement.


Will this bill require all school social workers to have an LCSW or LSW?


No. The requirement for licensure as an LCSW or LSW only applies to MSWs seeking the PEL School Social Worker endorsement via this alternative instead of the traditional post-MSW PEL program.


Why does the bill require MSWs to have an LCSW or LSW?

In conversations held by the chapter with existing school social workers in 2019, it was expressed that this requirement was something they wanted to see. Furthermore, a similar and existing program in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) requires MSWs also to be licensed. Although the licensure requirement was included as per the requests of school social workers, NASW-IL remains open to removing it if opposition prefers. However, it is worth noting that this requirement was put into place as per requests from existing school social workers.


Additionally, NASW-IL is also supporting another initiative bill (SB1632) that would remove the testing requirement for LSWs. This will take out another unnecessary burden to access which we feel disproportionately affects social workers from BIPOC populations.


Is this a new idea?

No. This bill was modeled after an existing program at CPS that allows licensed MSWs to work as school social workers, but it differs in that the CPS program still requires them to return to graduate school and complete a post-MSW PEL program at some point within a multi-year timeframe. In fact, current proposals by ISBE as well as IASSW allow for MSWs to work in certain schools for a set period of time as long as they are working toward or attending a post-MSW PEL program within a specific time period.


Where SB2071 differs is that it allows for licensed social workers to be trained while under direct supervision of a PEL social worker while removing the significant financial burden of paying to attend a post-MSW PEL graduate program.


What are Illinois schools doing now in the absence of filling open PEL school social worker positions?

For many schools, especially rural schools, these school social worker positions are staying open while school districts struggle to find an existing PEL school social worker. The work that would have otherwise been assigned to a PEL school social worker is instead being shared with other professionals in the school including case managers, nurses, and counselors, or they are increasing unsafe expectations on current social work staff. In some districts, the mental health needs of the students are being outsourced to community partners utilizing mental health professionals who work outside the school behavioral team. There are even other districts utilizing bachelor’s–level mental health professionals instead of a qualified MSW.


With the ever-growing focus on expanding mental health services in schools and the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ pillar on education and workforce development which pushes for safer school social worker ratios, the need for school social workers will only increase in Illinois. So too will the pressure to fill those jobs with mental health professionals that do not hold an MSW.


Has NASW-IL had discussions about SB2071 with other groups, including IASSW and the social work schools?

Yes. This bill was first discussed during the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike in fall 2019. While NASW-IL was the only social work association providing strike support and advocating for more school social workers during the strike, we were also working with organizations to solve workforce issues within CPS if CTU were successful in negotiating greater school social worker workforce numbers.


During this time, NASW-IL met with several school social workers, and the effort resulted in a draft bill modeled after the existing CPS program. Further discussions with several LCSWs fleshed out that the current CPS program was still problematic for social workers without financial means as it still required additional student loan debt, thus affecting a disproportionate number of BIPOC social workers.


NASW-IL also discussed this concept with CPS during the 2019 NASW-Illinois Chapter Statewide Conference and had numerous conversations with IASSW’s lobbyist in early 2020. As the primary professional association advocating for the social work profession, NASW-IL was invited to speak with CTU school social workers around the three workforce bills (SB661, SB662, SB2071) where IASSW leadership was also in attendance and participated in discussion.


NASW-IL leadership has had conversations with deans and directors of social work schools throughout the state, with opposition lobbyists, and IASSW leadership about SB2071. Any claims that NASW-IL has been less than collaborative are simply untrue and a misrepresentation of our efforts.


Is the sponsor open to amendments or alternatives to SB2071?

Yes. The sponsor has always been open to amendments and continues to meet with opposition. In fact, the sponsor has requested from opposition multiple times (since spring 2020) alternative language that allows an MSW to acquire the necessary training to transition into and acquire the PEL School Social Worker endorsement without requiring additional student debt. To date, no alternative language that doesn’t require additional student debt has been given.


Who else has expressed support for SB2071?

The following is a list of organizations who have expressed support for SB2071:

· National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter

· Illinois State Board of Education

· Illinois Association of School Administrators

· Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education

· Illinois Association of School Boards

· Chicago Public Schools

· Chicago Teachers Union

· Illinois Principals Association

What happens next?

The sponsor of the legislation has indicated that she plans on continuing to work with the opposition to try and craft the best possible solution for allowing MSWs a path toward earning the PEL School Social Worker endorsement without taking on additional debt. We expect to be a part of those discussions as the bill moves through the various chambers.


While NASW-IL will continue to be available to our membership, we do not plan on further litigating this policy disagreement through social media exchanges. Despite the fact that the chapter has received highly unprofessional and—at times—harassing text messages and e-mails from leadership of other social work associations around this issue, we remain committed to keeping these discussions moving at the highest levels.

In summary, the NASW-Illinois Chapter continues to advocate and push for policies that work to protect and benefit all within the social work profession. Our approach is unique as a professional organization as we support and represent not only the 20,000 licensed social workers and school social workers in Illinois, but also the individuals they serve around the state. If you would like to read about and support other legislation that the chapter is currently working on, please check out our latest spring 2021 advocacy update as well as the “Advocacy” sub-tab on our “News” page.

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