CHARLESTON -- With a new school year comes new policies.
And when different East Central Illinois superintendents sat down to discuss these policies with state Superintendent Christopher Koch, several issues seemed to be on their minds: funding, teacher licensing and testing.
"Funding underlies everything schools do," Koch said. "The majority of funding is used to pay for people and finding the right people and paying them is of critical important to education."
Koch stopped by the Regional Office of Education 11 on Wednesday morning to discuss these topics. With limited funding, the $3 billion in need that ROEs across Illinois requested several years ago is backlogged, he said.
Funding is also causing issues with hiring, Koch said. While districts were once content with recruiting from the bottom half of graduates out of college, the state has the raised the bar of who can teach, and licensing issues can make it difficult to hire or retain qualified staff, Koch said.
In this area of the state, schools tend to get out-of-state interest for positions, and because there isn't a common license or certification for teachers, it can be difficult to hire qualified faculty willing to work in Illinois, he said.
"It's another way a person can become discouraged from coming into the classroom," he said. "We don't need more barriers for good people coming in."
And while state colleges are graduating more than enough teachers, those teachers aren't necessarily prepared to teach subjects like math, science and foreign language, where help is really needed, Koch said.
Koch gave the example of a teacher he talked to who was pre-med but decided to teach physics instead, despite his parents' suggestions to remain on the pre-med track.
"He's persevering now, but where will he be in five years?," Koch said. "He would be a very experienced physics teacher who we want to retain, but is he's working upstream with all the messages about 'why go into science or math?'"
With Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams kicking into gear with Common Core implementation, testing is another big topic, Koch said. Educators want to know if kids are being tested for the right things, and PARCC online testing will cost more -- almost $10 per child more, he said.
"This is where the vendors are going in terms of cost," he said. "But we're not ready for that, and we should be as a state. We should be able to build our infrastructure. I think the federal government should fund that very heavily."
Ultimately, Koch said he is happy ROE 11 Superintendent Bobbi Mattingly invited him to come speak and to interact face-to-face with superintendents.
"There's nothing like getting it firsthand and hearing things, and trying to understand and be able to have a dialogue." he said. "I think that's always very very helpful."