Welcome to Mt Carmel, Ill., located just west of the Indiana border along the Wabash River. Home of the snake pit where Golden Aces fans fill the stands on autumn nights.
Down the road is Wabash Valley College, where students from all over the U.S., even other countries, go to build their careers. No doubt, education ranks high among this Southern Illinois town's priorities. But some feel education has gotten the shaft from state funding.
It's Carla Cadwalader's first year teaching early childhood education at the local college. As an educator, she's worked with students of all ages. She's also seen the downside of teaching -- witnessing valuable programs become at risk due to a lack of funding. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, the state's general fund allocation for preschool through 12th grade has been cut by more than $861 million since the 2009 fiscal year.
"As a teacher I hesitate when they talk about cutting arts and science and P.E.," says Cadwalader. "I think education probably should come first."
In the past five years higher education funding in Illinois saw a more than 20-percent increase, one of the highest in the nation. But annual reports show much of that extra money didn't go to college classrooms. Instead, it went to the state universities retirement system to address the historical pension shortfall.
Outside of the classroom, the state's worst-in-the-nation pension crisis makes Cadwalader worry about her and her co-workers' retirement.
"We've worked really hard to educate the Illinois students and most of us give about 120-percent every day and I think we deserve not to worry about retirement," says Cadwalader. "It's very frustrating. It's not something that I even as an employee during that 27 years thought about. I kind of put my faith in the system and we're finding now that maybe that's not something we should have done."
Marcus Jenkins, a corrections officer, is also affected by the state's $100 billion pension shortfall.
"Bad part of that is they make us look like bad people but we pay into pension too. I pay in about $1000 a month to pension and they're robbing it. They're stealing out of my pension and they're saying we're the bad people," explained Jenkins. "When you work every Christmas, and you work every kid's birthday, and everything else you expect to at least get something they promised you at the very beginning. I mean, it's just bad all around. I understand that everybody else is hurting too but when you walk into something, you're promised something -- you should get what you're promised."
State prison cuts also hit close to home for the corrections officer. "All the prisons are run down. They're not putting money into them, they're all falling down around us," says Jenkins. "Basically they just need to start doing maintenance and stuff and start taking care of state stuff instead of taking care of themselves."
The Voice of the Voter in Mt. Carmel is a champion of affordable, quality education, responsible spending, and security for folks going into retirement. They're tired of corruption in Illinois politics and want to see integrity prevail in policy-making.
Tune-in to Eyewitness News Thursday at 10 on WEHT as Voice of the Voter heads to Albion in Edwards County, Illinois.