By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
Spending more on education is always a political winner. It’s why former Gov. Bruce Rauner boosted state spending on education year after year despite the two-year budget impasse and his dire warnings of the state’s collapsing finances.
Now, it’s the Pritzker administration’s turn to spend more. The Illinois State Board of Education has released its recommended 2021 budget and it wants to increase state appropriations to education by another $760 million, an 8.6 percent increase. That’s on top of the current year’s 6 percent increase and 2019’s 5 percent jump.*
What Illinoisans may not know, however, is that before Rauner even spent a dime, Illinois was already spending more federal, state and local dollars on a per student basis than any other state in the Midwest – and far more than its neighbors.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest nationwide numbers, Illinois spent a total of $15,337 per student on education in 2017. That’s $5,000 more per student – or 53 percent more – than Indiana spends in total and $3,300 more than Wisconsin, its closest-spending neighbor. It was also 26 percent more than the national average.
That spending disparity has likely only grown three years and billions in additional spending later.
What about outcomes?
Unfortunately, that additional funding hasn’t translated into better outcomes for Illinois students.
Illinois’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for math and reading have remained essentially flat over the decade, even as total per student spending has grown by over 40 percent.
And it’s not as if Illinois scores have plateaued – that all that spending is simply maintaining high test scores that its neighbors haven’t matched.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Illinois’ NAEP scores are mostly lower when compared to its neighbors. Indiana spends far less than Illinois does, but Indiana’s results are far better across the board. Ditto for Wisconsin. Missouri, Iowa and Kentucky have also largely outperformed Illinois.
In a nutshell: Illinois spends far more than its neighbors on education and yet its politicians are committed to spending hundreds of millions of dollars more every year. All to achieve student outcomes that haven’t improved in a decade and are, in most cases, worse than in neighboring states.
But even if there is correlation, as some studies have recently suggested (and still others question), Illinois will still have a hard time improving outcomes. That’s because the state misspends billions in education dollars year after year on its bloated education bureaucracy.
Illinois has far too many school districts, too much executive pay and too many administrators draining money that should be going to classrooms. Too much is also going toward retirements, benefit-boosting perks and the state’s regressive pension funding scheme.
Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution has written extensively on the issue of poor spending. His research finds that states can’t “just drop in a pile of money and expect good performance to come out,” and that: “We really cannot get around the necessity of focusing on how money is spent on schools.”
That’s as true for Illinois as it is for any state.
Rather than squeeze billions more out of Illinoisans with a progressive tax hike, lawmakers should reform the bloated system already in place: Consolidate school districts, cut back on perks that nobody in the private sector gets, and reform pensions – starting with a pension amendment to the state’s constitution.
A bureaucratic rollback and pension reform is what Illinois needs to redirect billions of dollars back to the classrooms that need it most.
*Includes new state appropriations of approximately $220 million to Chicago Teacher Pensions.
Read more about the need for education reform in Illinois:
- Administrators over kids: Seven ways Illinois’ education bureaucracy siphons money from classrooms
- Illinois’ regressive pension funding scheme: wealthiest school districts benefit most
- ‘Evidence-based’ education funding doesn’t work
- District consolidation provides path to efficiency, lower tax burdens
- Education finance solutions