CUBA, IL –Rural schools in Illinois will have more of a voice in state decisions when a new council meets for the first time in January.
State Senator Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, sponsored legislation in 2023 that created the board. He said rural schools felt their needs were being overlooked.
“They have some problems that are very unique to them – transportation being one of the biggest problems, because of the distance that a lot of their students have to travel,” Koehler said.
The Rural Education Advisory Council will provide recommendations to the State Board of Education. Despite this advisory role, the council lacks the authority to enact final decisions, leading to questions about its effectiveness in creating change.
Joe Brewer, a teacher at Cuba High School in western Illinois, is worried that teachers’ concerns won’t be represented on the new council.
By law, the council must include five superintendents, one principal, and one student. There is no legal requirement for the council to include teachers.
Brewer says teachers and principals all burn out – but the exhaustion of rural teachers is different.
“My very first year, I was living in a basement apartment for $350 a month, having the time of my life. I was practically sleeping at school. I’m in year 17 right now, and I’m still roughly in an entry level job,” he said.
In addition, rural teachers have to fill many roles within a school. Brewer says he is teaching five different classes this semester – U.S. history, civics, current events, psychology and Illinois history.
The Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools first brought SB1787 to Koehler. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it into law in August.
Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.