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Barickman: Political attacks on educators have worsened teacher shortage

Jason Barickman
State Sen. Jason Barickman is a Republican from Bloomington-Normal.

A Republican state senator from Bloomington said unfairly blaming educators for the state’s pension problems contributed to what’s become a stubborn teacher shortage.

Jason Barickman worked on the bipartisan school-funding overhaul that passed five years ago. He said the next big policy challenge may be bolstering the teaching profession itself.

“I personally believe our educators unfairly had a political target on their back for years,” Barickman said on WGLT's Sound Ideas. “We all acknowledge that there’s a problem in our pension system. Challenges that are enormous. But the blame for years, by some people, was put on educators. And I think unfairly so. Educators, they take a job, they do what they’re asked, the ones I talk to do it incredibly well, and the state’s made promises to them.

“The fact that they became part of a political discussion was unfair. And it discouraged younger people from getting into the profession, because mom or dad or someone was a teacher and they told their child, ‘Don’t go into teaching because you’ll be a political punching bag,’” he said.

Public education continues to be a political target. Just last week, the McLean County Republican Party hosted a screening of a documentary-style film called “Whose Children Are They?” It claims to expose the hidden agenda in public schools and the corrupting influence of teachers’ unions.

Barickman said continuing to invest in teacher-training programs like Illinois State University’s is a good place to start.

“We need to invest in those types for programs and encourage people to find ways to enter the educational system. It’s a huge policy challenge for us,” he said.

Funding formula overhaul

Meanwhile, it’s been five years ago this month since passage of legislation that overhauled the way public schools in the state are funded. Huge disparities still exist among districts, both in funding and academic performance, but lawmakers from both parties who were part of negotiating the new law say it has provided huge benefits, especially to those schools that were most underfunded.

Barickman said it was a huge, yearslong negotiation to get it done, starting under then-Gov. Pat Quinn and finishing during Gov. Bruce Rauner’s term. Much of it happened during the budget stalemate.

“Our public education system and the way it was funded by the state was stuck in a trajectory that was very harmful, especially to some of our lower-income school districts. Downstate, we have rural districts that were unable to have the resources necessary to provide the tools that kids need,” Barickman said. “I do think that, though there’s more than can be done, I think that did a really good job of demonstrating to people – especially those in the education system, but for anyone who watched – that it’s quite possible for the two sides to come together and reach an agreement that is good for the people of this state. I wish we had more of it.”

Barickman said he doesn’t intend to publicly support or oppose the Unit 5 referendum that will be on the November ballot, looking to free up more property-tax money for McLean County’s largest school district.

“I’m sympathetic to the fact that our schools, including Unit 5, need resources. I think the administrators and school board at Unit 5 have, for years, been making a public case that there’s a misalignment that exists. And it resulted in cuts recently. Those cuts were felt throughout the community. I heard about them. Some of their parents are my constituents. People are concerned. They want their local schools to thrive and have the resources available,” he said.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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