Quality public education is the cornerstone of making Illinois competitive in the global economy. It is also the cornerstone of our democracy. Recent research shows that every dollar invested in secondary and post-secondary public education will pay back $5 to the state. When we under-fund education, we cheat both our children and ourselves.
To be competitive, we must return our state’s public higher education system to its premier position in the world. For years, as the state struggled financially, funding for the schools and grants to attend them have gone down. As a result, enrollment has crashed while our youth have left for other states. We must return work to return our funding of these schools back to pre-2000 levels.
Assuring a quality public education for everyone requires assuring that funding is equitable across the state. The new, evidence-based funding formula for K-12 schools is the right first step. But it must be fully funded quickly. This can be done by refocusing public dollars on public education, eliminating the so-called private school scholarship program and allowing school boards to refuse to certify charter schools. Other steps, such as vertical consolidation of school districts, will also increase funding for the classrooms. Passage of a fair tax system will enable the state to keep its constitutional commitment to fund schools while reducing dependency on local property taxes.
Quality education means allowing and trusting our teachers to teach. They are not the cause of problems in our poorest district, inequitable funding is. Teachers and their unions, administrators, school board members and parents should collaborate to remove barriers to quality education.
Districts 211 and 214 have created high quality vocational education programs with the help of local businesses and unions, and extra funding from federal Perkins grants. Vocational Education, side-by-side with college preparatory, programs prepare students for a wide variety of career paths, leading to good paying jobs and the ability to join the middle class. Every student in the state should have access to similar programs customized to local student interests and business needs.