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The Big Myth That Needs to Be Debunked: Illinois Needs More Money for Education – Wirepoints Special Report

By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

Illinoisans spend in total 44 billion dollars, or $24,000 per student, in PK-12 schools. They have doubled their per-student spending in the last 15 years (the third-largest increase in the country) and Illinois residents are now the 11th-highest spenders in the country and by far the highest spenders in the Midwest. Illinois residents have done their job by funding the state’s education system, and their property tax bills, the highest in the country, are proof of that.

Despite all that, the system continues to fail Illinois children. Nearly 60% of white students statewide cannot read at grade level. Neither can 80% of Hispanics and almost 90% of black children. In many cities, such as Decatur and Peoria, the numbers are even more dire. And you can’t blame covid. The results were equally bad before the pandemic hit.

Illinois’ public education system simply doesn’t work. And yet, those responsible are clamoring for even more money. This year alone, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson wants another billion dollars from state taxpayers, never mind that Chicago schools already spend nearly $30,000 per student. And Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates says she wants “$50 billion and 3 cents” for a new teacher contract that includes 9% minimum wage increases for teachers. And education interest groups want lawmakers to spend almost billion dollars more every year on the state financing formula.

It is those types of demands, year after year, that push legislators to invest more money in education without questions or accountability. It’s all part of the education hustle and bustle between teachers unions and state politicians, which we wrote about in The Wall Street Journal.

If Illinoisans ever want to see a reduction in their property tax bills, and if they want more literate and numerate children in this state, they will have to back off. But first they’ll need to know the facts about how extreme and ineffective Illinois has become when it comes to education spending. Here are five key facts.

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A word about education methodology, spending and outcomes, and why state and federal data often differ.

  • To arrive at total education spending figures for Illinois, including funding for daily operations, capital, debt, and pensions, Wirepoints uses data directly from the state budget and the State Board of Education. When all local, state and federal sources are added up, Illinois had about $44 billion, or $24,000 per student, to spend in 2024.
  • However, when comparing across states to make apples-to-apples comparisons, Wirepoints relies on federal sources that aggregate data from across the country. Because federal financial/reporting requirements differ from those of Illinois, Illinois education figures will differ slightly from federal sources. Wirepoints federal sources include the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Annual Survey of School System Finances, Fiscal Year 2022,” the latest data available.
  • The same applies to Illinois students’ proficiencies in reading and mathematics. State and federal tests differ from each other, so the state of Illinois’ own proficiency scores do not match the numbers reported by the federal government. Wirepoints federal sources include student test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Wirepoints chose 2007 as the base year for our analysis to avoid volatility in education funding during the Great Recession.

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1. Illinois is already one of the top spenders in the country on education.

According to U.S. Census data, Illinois spent nearly $19,000 per student in 2022, the most of any Midwestern state. (That includes local, state and federal dollars.)

That’s $3,000 more per student than North Dakota, $4,000 more than Wisconsin and $7,000 more than South Dakota.

In the 50 states, Illinois ranks 11th in total spending per student. The states that outperform Illinois are mostly high-cost states in the Northeast, such as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

2. Illinois has doubled its education spending since 2007

Illinois’ total per-student spending grew 98% between 2022 and 2007, the third largest increase of the nation’s 50 states. Spending rose from about $9,500 in 2007 to nearly $19,000 in 2022.

Washington grew 104% and New Hampshire grew 101%, outpacing Illinois’ growth by only a few percentage points.

Indiana and Florida stand out in the graph, at the opposite end of Illinois, with spending growth rates of less than 40%. Those states spend about $12,000 per student – ​​$6,500 less per student than Illinois – and yet their student outcomes are equal to or better than Illinois’. See the Appendix for a complete 50-state comparison of per-student spending and growth rates.

3. Illinois’ neediest districts also spend more than other Midwestern states.

Even with Illinois’ high spending range, education funding advocates will argue that Illinois’ poorest districts need more money.

But Wirepoints found that average spending per student in Illinois’ Tier 1, made up of the state’s 326 poorest districts, remains higher than overall spending averages in all other Midwestern states. Tier 1 school districts spent an average of $15,864 per student.

4. Illinois’ increased spending on education has done nothing to improve student outcomes.

Education spending per student has doubled since 2007, but Illinois’ test results show virtually no improvement. Back then, only about a third of all students were proficient in reading and math, and those results are about the same today.

Wirepoints analysis of Illinois student competencies comes from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – also known as the Nation’s Report Card. The national test, a product of the U.S. Department of Education, allows for accurate comparison of fourth- and eighth-grade students’ reading and math skills over time and across all 50 states.

The results for Illinois students are even more troubling when broken down by race. Only 41% of white fourth graders scored proficient in reading in 2022, down one percentage point compared to 2007.

The state’s minorities are even worse off. Only 21% of Hispanic fourth graders and a shockingly low 13% of Blacks scored proficient in reading on NAEP tests in 2022. Those scores are about the same as they were 15 years ago.

Illinois’ spending and bottom line problems become more obvious when its results are compared to those of other states. Illinoisans pay far more for education than their Midwestern neighbors to achieve roughly the same dismal results.

Those states’ reading proficiencies hover around 30%, but they spend $3,000 to $8,000 less per student than Illinois. Illinois is the extreme outlier, forcing its residents to pay more for fewer results.

5. Illinoisans already pay the highest property taxes in the country and one of the highest tax burdens overall.

The net result is that Illinoisans pay an enormous price for near-illiteracy and illiteracy. They pay the highest property taxes in the country, more than double those in Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky. Nearly two-thirds of Illinois property taxes go to pay for education.

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Illinois’ educational elite has gotten away with spending more and more while implementing a failed education system, and Illinoisans, by consistently voting for legislators who support the status quo, have been largely complicit.

The facts on the ground are indisputable and demand wholesale change, including universal school choice. The question is: Will Illinoisans finally act on those facts?

Appendix.

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