Illinois schools have hit a big rough patch this year, what with Chicago Public Schools' huge budget gap, continuing funding disparities throughout the state and public colleges struggling to make ends meet in the midst of the state budget impasse. Gov. Bruce Rauner, in his 2016 State of the State address, touted 10 changes he said he believes will improve Illinois education. What are his goals and what do they mean? We'll list the governor's goals here and try to decode them, providing the context behind each goal.
1) Work closely with President Cullerton to significantly increase state support for education, focusing our additional resources more on low income and rural school districts so we can provide high quality classrooms in every community, without taking money away from any other districts.
Illinois' school funding formula is a hot topic; in fact, Senate President John Cullerton recently called funding reform the "defining crisis of our time." The issue is the state provides the same foundation-level funding to every district, regardless of how poor the district and the students are. Since schools will then pull more funding from property taxes, that means schools in low-income or rural areas tend to have a lot less money to spend. The most recent attempt at funding reform will attempt to provide less state aid to richer districts, so poorer ones can get more funding. But some wealthier areas don't like that idea, especially ones that have raised taxes to provide more money for schools.
Of course, that's not the only issue with Illinois education funding. From WQAD:
Local funding notwithstanding, many school leaders say the state also doesn't contribute enough to funding education. Illinois ranks 50th in the U.S. for the state's share of education funding. Only 28 percent of dollars spent on education come from the state in Illinois; while the national average is closer to 50 percent.
2) Provide proper funding for early childhood education while setting rigorous benchmarks for program performance, so we can continue to be national leaders in this important work.
Early childhood education is recognized worldwide as a huge boon for kids, especially for low-income children. While affluent families are better able to provide resources -- like books -- for young kids, poor families often don't have that option. That's one way that preschool and other early childhood education programs can help close the gap, potentially even preventing students from dropping out later in their education.
While Illinois has done well in the past with providing early education, the Education Week Research Center gave the state a D+ in it's Quality Counts report last year. Illinois still ranks in the top when it comes to how many 3- and 4-year-olds are attending school at almost 53 percent, but it didn't do well in closing the gap between affluent students and poor students when it comes to preschool enrollment.
3) Give school districts more flexibility when it comes to bargaining, contracting, and bidding, to save taxpayers money, while enabling districts to pay higher teacher salaries.
Some Illinois school districts have struggled to set up teacher contracts recently, notably CPS. But it's not the only one; Lake Villa School District 41 has been in contract talks since May and several Fox Valley districts went without contracts for months into the school year.
From the Aurora Beacon-News:
Charlie McBarron, spokesman for the Illinois Education Association, said that though all bargaining is done independently at the local level, the state budget situation could be affecting negotiations across the board.
The Kaneland, Indian Prairie and Yorkville unions are affiliated with the Illinois Education Association.
"A trend, I think, is many of the negotiations are more acrimonious than they have been in years past," McBarron said. "And that's all related to uncertainty over the financial situation."
4) Empower our universities and community colleges to reduce their administrative costs, work rules, pension liabilities and unfunded mandates, and then offer additional financial support to those schools that show real progress in putting more resources in the classroom.
It's no secret some Illinois colleges and universities are struggling thanks to the budget impasse. Chicago State University has announced it won't be able to pay its bills after March 1, Western Illinois University is making faculty cuts and the University of Illinois is making plans to cut costs next school year.
Of course, colleges have more bills to pay than just instructor salaries. Some even blame rising administrative costs for the huge boom in higher education prices. From the New York Times:
[...] a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.
And some schools spend more money on administrative costs than others. You can view how much money colleges spend on administration versus faculty at the National Center for Education Statistics here.
5) Support more partnerships between high schools, community colleges, and local employers so that our young people who are not going to university, can receive the training to step into good paying careers beginning in their teenage years.
Not all high school students are preparing to head to college. In fact, only 46 percent of students in Illinois are considered ready for college by scoring 21 or above on their ACT. The problem is -- even though a college degree is very expensive -- it's probably worth it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics a high school grad in 2014 could expect to make around $668 a week. A college grad could expect $1,101.
Vocational training -- learning a specific skill for future employment -- may be a route to better pay and more stable jobs. President Obama also has pushed for more work training in high schools and colleges to provide more options for students.
Vocational training is more common in Europe than the U.S. There are signs it works well there. From U.S. News:
Vocational education historically has been prevalent in European countries, such as Finland and Germany, but often comes with a stigma in the U.S. that suggests only low-performing and troublemaking students end up in such schools. In Germany, children of middle school age take tests and either move on to apprenticeships or a university preparation route, says James Stone III, director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education at the University of Louisville.
"We look at that and say, 'Oh, isn't that terrible?' Because we're condemning kids based on a test at that age," Stone says. "But when you actually look at what they do and how they do it, the system works extraordinarily well. They have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the industrialized world, and going through an apprenticeship in no way prevents one from moving on to college."
You can read about the other five ways Rauner wants to change education at RebootIllinois.com.
NEXT: Did you learn the lesson yet about Chicago Public Schools and responsible financing?