REPOSTED DUE TO RECENT EVENTS. Twenty-two school superintendents have filed a lawsuit against the state, as we wrote earlier this week. Their demand is identical to the State Superintendent’s budget request earlier this year.

By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

Last year we warned that Illinois should reject the “evidenced-based” funding model proposed by Sen. Andy Manar and signed into law by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The model has failed wherever it’s been tried. And it came with an enormous price tag. One that Illinoisans can’t afford.

Not to mention it was yet another way to avoid actually fixing the problems with education in Illinois. Giving billions more to the state means lawmakers will face far less pressure to consolidate Illinois’ 860 school districts, roll back administrative bloat, or cut executive-level pay.

Leave it to Illinois’ educational bureaucracy to prove our point for us.

Illinois’ education elite originally said they wanted $350-$600 million a year in new money each and every year for the next decade to get to what they call an “adequate” amount of funding for districts across the state.

That request in and of itself made no sense. Illinois already outspends all of its neighbors and the entire Midwest on a per student basis. And if officials wanted more money for classrooms, they could get it by reforming Illinois’ education bureaucracy.

But now officials have dropped the pretense of wanting that money over time.

Instead, Illinois K-12 Superintendent Tony Smith says he wants $7.2 billion more in funding right now – not over ten years. He’s proposed to double the state’s contribution to education to nearly $14 billion next year. That increase is more than the $5 billion tax hike Illinoisans just got hit with.

His demand reveals the complete disconnect between Illinois’ education bureaucracy and the real world.

Illinois is in need of serious solutions and spending reforms. Next year’s budget is already on track to be at least $3 billion out of whack. They already pay the nation’s highest property taxes. And the state is already destroying its tax base – Illinois has shrunk four years in a row.

Taxpayers couldn’t afford the $350 million a year officials originally proposed.

The full price tag: $7.2 billion in one year, is madness.

And it’s all to go toward a failed education model and a bloated education bureaucracy in desperate need of reforms.

Here’s what the educational officials crying for more money won’t tell you:

1. Illinois already spends far more on education than the entire Midwest.

Since 1996, Illinois total per student spending (including federal, state and local sources) has grown at twice the rate of inflation – to $15,325 in 2016 from $6,395 two decades ago.

That’s pushed per student spending in Illinois to levels that are far higher than all of its neighbors – 20 percent more than Michigan, 36 percent more than Missouri and 42 percent more than Indiana.

Adding another $3,500 per student – Smith’s proposed $7.2 billion – would have Illinois spending 75 percent more than Indiana and make the tax differential between the two states even larger.

2. Illinois’ property poor districts spend more compared to neighboring states

Illinois high per student spending isn’t just due to wealthy districts on the North Shore. When the wealthiest districts are stripped out of the state’s average, Illinois’ poorer districts actually spend more per student than both the national average and the average per-student spending in neighboring states.

And when Illinois’ student population is broken down into quartiles on the basis of concentration of students in poverty, students in districts with the highest concentration of poverty receive 13 percent more funding than those in the lowest poverty concentration.

3. Billions of state funds are “captured” by a bloated education bureaucracy

Administrative bloat is one of Illinois’ most pressing education problems. Between 1992 and 2009, the number of district administrators in Illinois grew by 36 percent, 2.5 times faster than student growth.

Those administrators are scattered across Illinois’ hundreds of school districts, many of which are unnecessary and duplicative.

A third of school districts in Illinois have fewer than 600 students. 

They don’t need an additional layer of expensive, district-level bureaucrats watching just over them. 



And twenty-five percent of school districts have just one school in them. Again, that’s another layer of bureaucracy for just one school.


Nobody wants to pay more taxes so more administrators can get rich, but executive-level pay is the norm for top educational administrators in Illinois.

The 1,100 full-time supers and assistant supers in the state, on average, receive $180,000 a year in total compensation.

The top supers receive far more. Each of the top 10 compensated administrators receives over $340,000 in compensation a year. Those salaries will translate into pension benefits worth millions during their retirements.



4. Evidence-based funding will be an expensive failure

The “evidenced-based” funding model proposed by Sen. Andy Manar and signed into law by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has been a failure everywhere it’s been tried.

Yet lawmakers approved the complete transformation of the state aid system and the unaffordable price tag that came with it.

The model calls for billions more in education funding even though Illinois already outspends all of its neighbors and the entire Midwest on a per student basis.

In fact, it’s such a deceitful system that it prompted Stanford University Professor Eric A. Hanushek, an expert in education funding, to liken proponents of evidence-based funding with snake-oil salesmen. The model’s predicted results, he says, “is the stuff of science fiction novels, not research-based school policies.”

Hanushek adds, “pity the poor states that actually implement the…plan. They are sure to be disappointed by the results, and most taxpayers (those who do not work for the schools) will be noticeably poorer.”

Reforming education

Smith and the other thousands of administrators who originally pushed hard for the education finance bill have a clear motive. Whether $350 million or $7.2 billion a year, the new funding bill ensures that more money will make it to Illinois’ bloated education bureaucracy.

But Illinoisans simply cannot afford to pay so much more to a system that’s so broken. They’re already struggling under the latest $5 billion tax hike.

Illinoisans are leaving the state in droves. Illinois shrinking and so is Chicago. And IRS data shows the people leaving Illinois make more than the ones coming in. That means the ever-growing tax bills will fall on fewer and fewer people – a recipe for driving out those who remain at an even faster pace.

If Tony Smith wants more money for students and classrooms, he should look right under his nose. After all, he’s at the top of a massive education bureaucracy that drains hundreds of millions in funds that could be going to classrooms every year.

Lawmakers and officials should consolidate districts and cut the administrative fat in Illinois education

Candidate for Governor Jeanne Ives has it right when she says we need to consolidate Illinois school districts. Her proposal, to make all districts into unit districts, would cut the bureaucratic bloat by nearly 50 percent.

They can also address the other problem that drains state funds from the classroom: Illinois’ pension crisis.

About 50 percent of state money goes into education goes to pay for pensions.

That percentage can be brought down if officials cut pension costs. Officials can’t do anything about them directly, but they can freeze salaries for those who have already vested into million-dollar-plus pensions.

And officials can shift cost of pensions to local school districts. That will force districts to finally moderate the size of the pension perks they hand out to teachers.


You can read more of our work on Illinois education reform here:

Special report: Illinois education finance solutions

Illinois school district consolidation provides path to efficiency

Understanding Illinois’ broken education funding system

CPS pensions: From retirement security to political slush fund

Evidence-based education funding doesn’t work, would cost Illinois taxpayers billions

Busting Forrest Claypool’s 4 big myths about CPS funding


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2 years ago

To collect an extra $7.2 billion, the state would need to raise the current flat rate to 6.75% (a quarter percent per billion). For sake of argument, let’s say the state did just that. In addition to the uproar from taxpayers across the state, there would be no additional money for higher ed or social services or anything else the state does as lower ed would consume each additional penny. Imagine paying 6.75% and all these state agencies would STILL be begging for funding as they are today, except by then the well would be dry. If I was the… Read more »

2 years ago

Ted, John
I assume the $13,755 annual $ spent per student you list only includes the minimum payment to state required benefit (pension, health, etc)? and if full payment were required and all the debit for all those benefits were required then that $13,775 annual $ spent per student to raise to somewhere between here and outer-space, correct?

2 years ago
Reply to  NB-Chicago

The report from the USCB states for IL: “…Payments made by the state government into the state’s public school retirement systems on behalf of Illinois school districts are included in the tables that display state totals of elementary-secondary education finances. These payments have been estimated for local school systems and appear in the tabular detail for state revenue and expenditure of individual school systems. Illinois corporate personal property replacement tax revenue is included as a state revenue source rather than local revenue in this report.” Furthermore: “Payments to other school systems are excluded from this table. Expenditures for adult education,… Read more »

2 years ago
Reply to  nixit

nixit–thanks, I tried to go on USCB site and I see what you are referencing. very complicated. Do not see how all $100s of billions in pension debit or other debit or interest is included in averages.

2 years ago

Illinois Superintendents would counterpoint by saying higher spending and more administrators are needed to deal with unfunded mandates. It is worth noting that EOB in itself is full of mandates. However my schools Supt. calls them “suggestions.”