To save money, some area school districts, including Dixon and Rock Falls, plan to send fewer students to the Whiteside Area Career Center in the fall.
Enrollment at the Sterling-based vocational school, which is 646 students for the current school year, is projected to drop to 515 – a plunge of 20 percent.
We sympathize with the financial plight faced by school districts that suffer because the state of Illinois' finances are so bad. The past 2 years, the state has paid less than 90 percent of the aid it owes schools.
So, schools must cut their budgets. The sad part is that among the casualties are the types of students upon whom our region will depend to work in the local economy and provide future services.
Authors Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas describe those students as "stayers" in their book "Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America." Such students stay in their communities after graduating from high school, find jobs, and begin to build their lives.
And the foundation for many local careers they will pursue is laid at vocational education schools such as the Whiteside Area Career Center.
There, students get started on nursing careers through the certified nursing assistant program.
Students take training in early childhood, digital media arts, auto service, building trades, and computer technology.
They learn about criminal justice, commercial foods, business, and welding and manufacturing.
An impressive new curriculum, the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) program, was launched last fall to teach students how to create and launch their own businesses.
Carr and Kefalas argue that educational opportunities for "stayers" should be strongly supported. Unlike students who go off to college or enlist in the military, the "stayers" are the ones who will buy homes, raise families, serve the community, and spend their money right here.
Their education and training is vital to the future of the Sauk Valley.
And, because Ilinois' financial woes hurt schools' budgets and caused them to cut back on career training, our new crop of "stayers" will have fewer opportunities here at home.
In addition, the decision to send fewer students to WACC could imperil the promising CEO program.
We don't like those prospects one bit.
There must be a way to restore opportunities for the scores of students who will be shut out of career training.
Here's an idea. Our area is served by several education service regions. We ask the regional school superintendents, Robert Sondgeroth for Whiteside County and Paul McMahon for Lee and Ogle counties, to see what they can do to solve this problem.
Otherwise, many students' futures will be given short shrift. That's bad for them, and all of us.
State leaders have failed those young people, who face diminished future prospects. Local leaders must not quietly acquiesce to this injustice.