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A Publication of WTVP

To say there’s a crisis in education today seems trite. We’ve heard it over and over again. We’ve also heard something needs to be done. Education today seems to be taking on the same qualities as weather—everybody talks about it, but nobody ever does anything about it. Like the weather, how we educate our children, young adults, and adults has a great affect on the quality of life in our community. But unlike the weather, we can do something about it.

Education strongly influences the skills of our workforce, the intellectual prowess of our leaders, and our attitude as a people. Through education we master technology, destroy prejudices, and enrich our lives through literature and the arts. Studies in the literature indicate more highly educated communities are more open to innovation. Thus, education is not only linked to the quality of our daily lives, but also to our hopes for progress and prosperity.

Progress and prosperity, if linked to the health of education, are most definitely in jeopardy today. The Illinois legislature’s Task Force on School Finance concluded 80 percent of the state’s students lack the resources for an adequate education.

Per pupil expenditures range from less than $3,000 to more than $11,000. The current state budget already is operating well beyond its means, and budget cuts will only make matters worse. Our investment in education seems to be unequally applied at best, and dismally under-funded at worst.

At the same time, good teachers are becoming harder to find and keep. The rate for teachers leaving the profession has increased by 60 percent since 1996.

More than 75 percent of teachers who leave the profession do so for reasons other than retirement. Illinois loses about 30 percent of its teachers in their first three years on the job.

More than half the new teachers produced in Illinois never make it into the state’s public schools. They choose to go to other states that offer sign-on bonuses and other perks or to business and industry where salaries are higher. Finally, student interest in education is decreasing. Last year, undergraduate enrollment in education dropped by 10 percent.

Those of us who are educators see the combined force of budget constraints and diminishing cultivation of teachers as strategic and operational issues we must face, whether we work in the primary grades or higher education. All of us as citizens should see this force as a significant limitation to the future of our state.

The problems in education today are not just the problems of administrators, principals, and college presidents. Each of us has a stake in what happens with the future of education.

Education affects all of us—not just the students in classes at this moment in time. As we consider the challenges we face, perhaps we should recall a somewhat paraphrased quote from John Donne, "Never send to know for whom the school bell tolls; it tolls for thee." IBI

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