Our businesses and communities thrive when we have good schools—this is why I have always made education one of my top priorities. In 2007, the General Assembly passed a budget with $600 million in new funding for education—the largest funding increase in over 30 years. Despite our highly publicized differences last year, the General Assembly and the governor came to the agreement that we need to focus on education.
As chairman of the Illinois House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, I have sponsored legislation to establish a grant program for class size reduction in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. There are too many classrooms in Illinois with ratios of 30 or more children to one teacher. When schools are crowded, teachers cannot give students the individual attention they need, and our children do not receive the education they must have to succeed. I also sponsored legislation that established a technology immersion grant program, which allows schools to test-pilot technology in education. Each child has a different learning style, and some students are able to learn more easily with technology such as laptops and computer presentations. Bringing technology into our schools will improve our students’ skills, enabling them to compete in a global economy.
While much of our focus in Springfield is on education funding and funding reform, we have also spent a great deal of time and attention on accountability. This was brought to the limelight by the business community to ensure that the funding our school districts receive is used in a way that most benefits our children’s achievement levels. But while accountability is very important, some of these measures have gone too far. No Child Left Behind is the largest piece of accountability legislation the United States education system has seen in recent years. In theory, this federal legislation would hold our teachers and our school districts accountable for the subjects they teach our students. Yet in practice, this legislation has deteriorated our education system and forced teachers to teach our children how to simply pass a test rather than teaching for comprehension.
While No Child Left Behind has forced our schools to focus on testing, it has also forced music, art and vocational training out of class schedules. One thing that I hear when talking to business and labor leaders is that, while college prep is very important, we also need more career and technical training. We have many quality programs in our area high schools, but perhaps the one area we can improve upon is better dialogue between school officials and local businesses to ensure students are receiving the right training to be hired locally.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) also increases the academic outcome in our schools and supports economic and workforce development in Illinois. CTE increases graduation rates by up to 28 percent and significantly increases grade point averages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations within the next decade will require career and technical education. CTE graduates are 10 to 15 percent more likely to be in the labor force and earn eight to nine percent more than graduates of academic programs. Some reports have shown that a majority of students who dropped out of high school would have stayed if there was more “real-world” learning. CTE programs provide students with academic and technical skills to bring to the local workforce.
From pre-school, elementary and secondary education to career and technical education to higher education, we must continue to improve our children’s education and their chances at a successful future. In order to do that, we as legislators and local leaders need to work with educators to produce the best possible product—students who can successfully meet the challenges of our ever-changing world. IBI