A new report from Advance Illinois shows that while the state is making some advancements in education, they still have a long way to go.
Released every two years, the report, "The State We're In 2014," offers a look into the education system in the form of a state report card.
This year Illinois came in 15th in the nation in early childhood, 30th for K-12, and 25th in post-secondary education. Those numbers have either held steady or declined since the report's last release in 2012.
The state did show some improvements. The percentage of fourth-graders who are proficient in reading in the state moved from 33 to 34%. Eighth-graders who are ready to take on the level of coursework given in high school rose from 33 to 36%. In addition, post-secondary enrollment has gone up from 59 to 61%.
However, Advance Illinois Executive Director Robin Steans said a number of factors suggest declines to come in the future. While an increase in enrollment of state-funded preschools between 2008 and 2010 has allowed the state to see a gain in early childhood education, that number has since gone down. The result, said Steans is that the state has "given up the gains we made" academically.
Of K-12 education, Steans said "we've got teachers and administrators doing more with less for a population that arguably has much greater needs, and on top of that, as if that's not enough, we're also making some major changes across the state." Those factors, while not reducing scores yet, lead to declines, she said.
Steans was especially concerned for the state funding of K-12 schools, not only in the amount of money there is available, but also how that money is distributed among schools. She believes Senate Bill 16, which would take money from the larger districts to help out the poorer districts, would help to decrease this issue.
The low percentage of funding for schools across the state has led to a student to counselor ratio of 320 to 1, a number Steans referred to as "unbelievably shameful" and "a ridiculous workload."
The state was ranked 50th in terms of investment in schools.
"We're doing very well for a third of our kids. The issue is going to be how we're doing for the other two thirds," she said.
According to the report, of those students who do attend college, only 37% are expected to graduate. Despite higher enrollment in the past two years, that percentage is the same as it was at the time of the report's last release. The rate also comes in under the national average, as Illinois comes in 47th in the nation for college affordability.
"(We have to look at) what is a major today as you look at what the presence of certificates means for showing a level of accomplishment," said State Farm Chairman and CEO Ed Rust. "That directly translates into employability. (We are) looking at higher education in a totally different light than we have ever done."
Steans added that the state needs to focus on increasing the number of adults enrolled in college in order to reach the benchmark of having 60% of adults in the state holding post-secondary credentials by 2025. It is expected that two-thirds of jobs in the state would require the credentials by 2018.