Invest in teachers, education, says state poll
Brutally honest poll conducted for IEA finds Illinoisans think state is on wrong track, but education funding is key way to turn it around
By Ted Cox
CHICAGO — Illinoisans think the state is on the wrong track, but advocate increased education funding as a key way to turn it around, according to a new statewide poll conducted for the Illinois Education Association.
The bipartisan poll, “The State of Education,” in which 1,000 people were interviewed to fit statewide demographics, found that 62 percent feel Illinois is on the “wrong track.” But that was down from 64 percent in a poll taken at the same time in mid-March by the Paul Simon Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, which was down substantially from 84 percent in the same poll taken the year before.
At the same time, the new poll showed overwhelming support for public education. Some 68 percent called it “one of the most important issues” for the state, with an additional 15 percent of those polled saying it was “the single most important issue facing Illinois” — meaning 83 percent of Illinoisans display a strong commitment to public education. Some 71 percent believe funding for public schools should be increased, and an overwhelming majority of 62 percent think the $13,000 a year spent on average per pupil across the state should be increased.
“The people have spoken, and I hope our lawmakers are listening,” said IEA President Kathi Griffin at a news conference on the release of the poll Tuesday in Chicago.
The poll found that 57 percent of Illinoisans think teachers are paid too little, with 75 percent committed to paying their full pensions.
“Overwhelmingly, people believe teachers should keep their full pensions,” Griffin said.
Some 84 percent of those polled also considered teachers “very important” in having a say in how schools are run, topping even parents at 71 percent, and far surpassing the support for administrators (50 percent), local school boards (49 percent), and students (46 percent), with only 11 percent giving the same importance to politicians, while 39 percent said they should be involved “not at all.”
“The public views teachers as the experts to solve the problems,” Griffin said. “Everything in the classroom is governed by those who are not in the classroom.”
Griffin said improving the conditions for teachers was critical to improving education — and to addressing a teacher shortage.
“There’s a teacher shortage in our state,” she said. “We are in the midst of a teacher shortage, and this poll tells us why.”
Griffin never specifically addressed a bill in the General Assembly to raise the state’s minimum teacher salary to $40,000, but she made clear that increasing pay and committing to a full pension would draw more teachers to the profession and retain them over time, with corresponding gains to be had in classroom instruction.
The IEA is the state’s largest teacher union, representing 135,000 members.
IEA spokeswoman Bridget Shanahan applauded the “bipartisan effort” to get an accurate statewide poll, saying, “We think it’s a very honest look at what the people of Illinois think of education.”
“We think it’s a very honest look at what the people of Illinois think of education.”
IEA spokeswoman Bridget Shanahan on “The State of Education” poll (One Illinois/Ted Cox)
The poll followed statewide demographics, with 22 percent of respondents from Chicago, 19 percent from suburban Cook County, 18 percent from the collar counties, 13 percent from “downstate north,” and 19 percent from “downstate south.” It found that 33 percent considered themselves Democrats, 21 percent Republicans, and 46 percent politically independent.
Running parallel with similar polls on attitudes toward the health-care system and patients’ own personal doctors, the poll found widespread dissatisfaction with schools across the nation and across the state, with pluralities grading them as only average with a C, but a plurality of 33 percent graded their local public schools a B.
Pollster Jill Normington said there was surprisingly “uniform” consensus across the state and across all income and age levels in support for public education, although the collar counties did tend to show a little more satisfaction with their local schools.
Griffin and Normington said they think “The State of Education” is the first poll of its kind in Illinois, with Griffin adding that similar polls are conducted annually in neighboring states Iowa and Wisconsin. She said plans are to make “The State of Education” poll an annual event, with this initial poll serving as a “baseline” for how attitudes change over time.