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Teachers' Group Seeks to Bolster Public Education in IL, US

 A group of students in class raising their hands to answer a questions with smiles on their faces
A group of students in class raising their hands to answer a questions with smiles on their faces

A new campaign backed by public school educators aims to bolster public edu cation and student learning. The American Federation of Teachers' Real Solutions for Kids and Communities campaign seeks to improve a variety of areas where public schools are lagging. In Illinois and across the U.S., schools are still working to address learning loss from the pandemic. The latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show reading and math scores hit 1970s levels.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said reading is a cornerstone of this new campaign.

"Getting books into young people's hands, it's just a start," Weingarten explained. "The ability to read is a fundamental right and teaching children to read is the most fundamental responsibility of school."

Other elements of the campaign include hiring more support staff, provide more teacher resources, and making strides to improve youth mental health. A 2023 survey finds 92% of parents want to see schools provide mental health services for students. Illinois' 2024 budget allocated $50 million to expand mental health servicesfor school-age children.

However, challenges lie ahead for public schools and students. House Republicans have proposed big changes to Title One programs that fund lower-income schools in the upcoming budget. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona thinks politicians working to broaden parents' rights should shift their focus to more pressing educational needs.

"How about the parent's right to a well-resourced neighborhood school instead of seeing their tax dollars go to vouchers? How about the parent's right to make sure their children have fully staffed schools, with highly qualified teachers, not a cast of substitute teachers because their state has no problem with their teachers making less than $40,000 a year," Cardona said.

In 2017, Illinois lawmakers approved the Invest in Kids Act, a state income-tax credit to individuals or businesses who fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools. However, parent groups and taxpayers mounted a major campaign against the plan, and the General Assembly did not continue the program for the 2024 school year.

Mark has more than 30 years as a professional journalist, working for newspapers, magazines, radio/TV, and digital media.
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