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Rural Illinois Residents Say Funding is Top Ed. Concern

Rural Illinois residents named adequacy of school funding as the most serious education issue facing their communities a listening tour of the state held earlier this year.

Education was one of the areas discussed during the final stage of the most "comprehensive rural development data collection process" in more than 20 years in Illinois.

The overall goal was to identify rural Illinois issues and map out a strategy to help rural areas survive and thrive. The meetings were sponsored by the Office of Lt. Governor with support from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and the Governor's Rural Affairs Council.

Although only 10 percent of Illinois is rural, two-thirds of its 102 counties are either non-metro or micropolitan, so rural communities are critical to the state's well-being.

While education funding was No. 1, a 57-page report on the listening tour released last week revealed residents No. 2 concern was the ability of local schools to prepare students for jobs. Third on residents' list was the ability of local schools to prepare students for college.

"Attendees discussed the perception that vocational and technical training was not emphasized enough," according to the report. "Schools need to be able to collaborate more with businesses in curriculum design and given more flexibility in the way they are able to provide training. The need for more internship, apprenticeship, on-the-job, and real-world learning experiences came up often, both at the high school and college levels."

The Governor's Rural Affairs Council plans to examine the information gathered during the tour, as well as during prior surveys, and develop a "Vision for Rural Illinois" that would include a strategic vision, goals and action plan.

Other areas covered in the listening tour report include infrastructure, healthcare, business and quality of life.

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