By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

In 2017, Illinois passed an education funding law that recommends taxpayers put in at least $350 million in new money for education each year for the next ten years. Supporters of the law want to reach what they call the “adequate” amount of “evidence-based” funding for the entire state, which carries a total price tag as high as $7 billion.

Since then, education officials have dropped the pretense of wanting that money over time. State Board President Tony Smith wants the $7 billion in new money right now. The State Board of Education’s latest funding request calls for an 86 percent increase in state operating spending on education. With that request, the education budget totals more than $19 billion, which would consume more than 50 percent of the state’s current budget.

Such a large request has been deemed “symbolic” by some lawmakers, but it still reveals just how disconnected Illinois’ education officials are. ISBE’s funding request ignores the multiple realities facing Illinois and its residents.

For starters, even before the new funding law was passed, Illinois was already spending more on a per student basis than the entire Midwest. Illinois’ problem isn’t too little money. It’s that too much of it is tied up in pensions and administrative costs.

Second, fulfilling ISBE’s demand would cripple state finances. Illinois’ current budget is deeply in the hole, the state can’t pay its bills and the state’s credit rating is on the precipice of junk. More spending, on top of Illinois’ retirement debts, could trigger more downgrades.

Even if Pritzker tries to pay for new spending by hitting only the rich with a progressive income tax (which won’t work, here’s why), the fact remains that Illinoisans are overtaxed. And residents are fleeing the state in record numbers. Hiking taxes again to pay even more for a bloated education system will only accelerate outmigration.

Illinois education spending

In 2016, the last full year of available U.S. Census data, Illinois outspent all its neighbors on a per student basis. When all the local, state and federal dollars are added up, Illinois spent more than $14,000 per student on PreK-12 education. That’s 21 percent more than the national average, 24 percent more than Wisconsin spent and 44 percent more than Indiana.

Include the additional $7 billion ISBE wants and the spending differences between Illinois and its neighbors become even more stark. Illinois’ per student spending jumps to over $17,500* a year. That’s 53 percent more than what Wisconsin spends and 78 percent more than Indiana.

*Correction made Jan. 31, 2019. The original graphic overstated the projected per student spend under ISBE’s proposed budget. The amount has been corrected and is $17,557 per student. Numbers in the piece have been updated accordingly.

All that new spending is unlikely to improve educational outcomes, based on prior experience. Illinois’ new “evidence-based” funding system has failed everywhere else it’s been tried.

Unbalanced budgets

ISBE’s $7 billion would be impossible for the state’s budget to handle. The state is running a $1.2 billion deficit this year – which is the rosy scenario – and it has an additional $8 billion in unpaid bills piled up. So next year’s budget is destined to start deep in the red.

Add to that Gov. Pritzker’s promises to spend more on everything from higher education to healthcare to infrastructure, on top of the recent raises he granted to state workers, and Illinois’ 2020 budget will be on track for record spending and record deficits even before ISBE’s request.

Running deficits year after year has brought the state’s credit one notch from junk. More deficit spending, on top of Illinois’ retirement debts, could mean another downgrade. If that happens, Illinois would become the first state ever to receive a junk credit rating.

The consequences of that would be far reaching, and dire, for ordinary Illinoisans.

Illinoisans: overtaxed and heading out

Considering the promises Pritzker has made and Illinois politicians’ inability to even consider cost-saving reforms, all of that money needed to fill ISBE’s $7 billion demand would likely come from higher taxes.

The problem is Illinoisans are already overtaxed and are fleeing the state. Illinoisans just got hit with a permanent $5 billion income tax hike just two years ago. And Illinois’ property taxes, a majority of which go to pay for education, are the highest in the nation.

And for those who think a tax swap would fix the damaging impact property taxes have on Illinoisans’ wellbeing, simply shifting the taxes around does nothing when Illinoisans already face the 6th-highest state and local tax burden in the country.

Poll after poll shows that taxes are constantly driving people out of the state. Illinois has lost 1.5 million people to outmigration since 2000.

All those people leaving has contributed to Illinois’ loss of population. Illinois has actually shrunk five years in a row, a statistic only shared with Connecticut and West Virginia. Meanwhile, every one of Illinois’ neighbors has continued to gain people.

Spend what you already have, properly

There’s little point in increasing education spending if it drives up taxes to the point where many families are forced to leave. That would further damage the tax base, hurting the very effort to provide more funding for schools.

Instead of hitting up taxpayers for even more funds, Illinois officials should free the billions of dollars unnecessarily trapped in Illinois’ education bureaucracy and administrative bloat. Reforming pensions and consolidating duplicative school districts is a far better way to get money to the districts, and students, that need it.

Read Wirepoint’s reports on how to fix education:

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1 year ago

I support more state funding for education as long as they freeze/reduce what the local school board keeps taking from me in property taxes. There answer for spending is always, “IT’S FOR THE KIDS! YOU KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOUR HOME VALUE IF WE DON’T HAVE GOOD SCHOOLS?” I say, but our schools are average, my home is valued at the same price as it was in 2002, my taxes are 3x what I paid in 2002 and three quarters of that goes to the school. They say, “WELL YOUR HOME WOULD BE VALUED EVEN LESS IF WE DIDN’T… Read more »

1 year ago

And zero attempt to reduce the absured # of school districs, some w only a couple 100 student, but all cramed full of $six-figure$ administrators!!! If your in the racket, time to cash-on on jb before the ship goes down.

1 year ago
Reply to  NB-Chicago

Don’t forget the six figure teachers; probably more of those than administrators.

1 year ago

While Illinois shows a net decrease in the population,it only tells part of the real story.Actual taxpayers leaving the state is much more dramatic than it appears.You see,Illinois does have newly arriving residents.While it can be said that they are technically taxpayers through state sales taxes,they are actually a net loss to Illinois revenue.Many of these caravan migrants from south of the border are opting for Illinois because of lax immigration enforcement,as well as generous safety net benefits. The schools will need these additional billions and more.The classrooms will need additional staff for non-English speaking students.Then the teachers will strike… Read more »

1 year ago

When comparing between the 2013 and 2016 US Census Bureau numbers, Illinois had the 4th largest increase in spending in education per pupil over those 3 years (15.4%). Only CA, WA, and HI increased more. Illinois is still ranked #13 nationwide in per pupil education funding.

$7 billion spread across 2 million students would be an extra $3,500 per pupil, which would put us the top 5 with NY, NJ, CT. Two of those three states have insurmountable pension debt like us.

P Quilici
1 year ago

It’s time for Illinoisans to accept as fact that Illinois state, county and local governments are, for the most part, pension plans masquerading as government. The wealthier communities seem accepting of this fact and willing to tolerate it because they can afford it. Also, their citizenry possesses the collective acumen to demand and receive services they consider commensurate to their tax payments. This fiscal symbiosis also ensures against encroachment into their geographic prosperity of less “suitable” residents. Of course, this leaves less wealthy communities in a state of gradual, and in some cases not so gradual, decline. The irony of… Read more »

1 year ago

And I’m willing to bet that more than half that money will go right into the pension accounts.

1 year ago

What do we expect? Here in Rockford’s school district 205 there are approx 4,000 employees half of those are teachers. The other half are administrative bloat and those who do not teach any children like food service-bus drivers-groundskeepers-etc. Everyone gets pensions healthcare and other perks even though 1/2 of schools in Rockford are sub-par by Illinois standards. What is the total payroll in Illinois for teachers only? That should be the starting and ending point in as far as “Free” education is concerned the rest should be tuition paid by parents. Illinois law says the minimum per pupil expenditure is… Read more »

Herb Caplan
1 year ago
Reply to  Freddy

Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner, Freddy, and P Quilici, have laid it all bare. “What is the total payroll in Illinois for teachers only? That should be the starting and ending point in as far as ‘Free’ education is concerned.” Instead, it has all become bureaucracy, union cronyism and militancy, pay and pensions not education. Unless Pritzker is going to personally kick in the additional $350 million tax increase being demanded – petty change for him after what he paid to get elected – it’s time to bring in and unleash the forensic accountants on the budget and the spending,… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  Herb Caplan

Herb- I hope this is correct. According to Illinois Report Card 2017 Instructional spending is approx $8,023/ student and operational at $5,313/student for 2 million students. So $16 Billion for teachers and $10 Bil operational. This probably includes all benefits like pension pickup for many districts and healthcare but not sure about retirees pensions. Please correct me if I am wrong.

1 year ago

And these retarded people are teaching our children?

Time to GTF out of Illinois!

S and P 500
1 year ago
Reply to  Gemini

I would be happy if teachers knew how to read a balance sheet. For instance, LAUSD has $20 billion assets and $25 billion debts. The assets include just $5 billion cash and the debts include $5 billion unfunded pensions which are not reported honestly. For comparison, Sears has $7 billion assets and $12 billion debts. The striking teachers caved after just one week and got practically nothing.