Education advocates call for better funding, more counselors
More education funding, additional guidance staff, better access to advanced classes and focusing on practical career experiences could stem the flow of graduating high school seniors to colleges outside of Illinois, according to a new report released by Stand for Children Illinois.
The education advocacy group said only New Jersey high school graduates flee their home state for colleges elsewhere at a rate higher than Illinois.
"Our high school graduates are voting with their feet and going to out-of-state colleges, which is another example of the toll that the state budget crises took on education," said Mimi Rodman, the group's executive director.
The report highlights efforts Northwest Suburban High School District 214 has made in recent years to better prepare students for college or a career after high school by partnering with various colleges and corporate entities in the region. Because of those efforts, the district reports 84 percent of the district's seniors are participating in early college classes and receiving dual credit. Additionally, 95 percent of the district's seniors have a declared area of interest by the time they graduate, according to the report.
"We want them to utilize their high school years to discover their future," said Lazaro Lopez, District 214's associate superintendent for teaching and learning.
The report is also critical of the state's dearth of guidance counselors, noting Illinois' rate of 664 students per each counselor is far above the recommended ration of 250 to 1.
Jessica Handy, Stand for Children Illinois' government affairs director, called it an "atrocious ratio" and suggested a hiring blitz for guidance counselors. She complained many districts have guidance counselors doing menial tasks as a "catchall" at schools instead of focusing on student growth and achievement.
"They need to be spending their time focused on students and their next phase of life, not just the next class," she said.
The report advocates for increased education spending, but does not indicate where the money should come from. Handy suggested reallocating some federal dollars to cover some of the cost of adding guidance counselors and the need for districts to "prioritize" spending.
The report is available at the group's website, stand.org/illinois