5 things you should know about putting students ahead of administration

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
April 10, 2019

5 things you should know about putting students ahead of administration

The Illinois House of Representatives passed the Classrooms First Act by a unanimous vote March 28. If it becomes law, students, teachers and taxpayers will benefit.

Illinois has 852 school districts, which consume nearly two-thirds of property taxes in the state with the second-highest property taxes in the nation.

All that money spent on education should generate impressive results, but our neighbors in Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana spend between $2,400 and $4,000 less per student. All three states score better on K-12 math and reading proficiency, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress.

Why is that?

Modern education research demonstrates that how money is spent is more important than how much money is spent. Illinois is not spending money well.

Illinois spends more than any neighboring state and nearly double the national average on “general administration” costs, which measures spending on school districts but excludes administrative costs within individual schools. This excessive spending on bureaucracy keeps money away from students and teachers.

But House Bill 3053 – the Classrooms First Act – would help change that. The bill would prioritize students and teachers over administration, while at the same time providing potential property tax relief to state residents.

It’s a win-win proposition.

On March 28, the bill sailed through the Illinois House of Representatives with a unanimous vote. Senate Bill 1838, a parallel bill, is now pending in the Illinois Senate.

Here are five things you should know about the Classrooms First Act and how it would benefit students, teachers and taxpayers.

1) The Classrooms First Act would create a commission to study school district efficiency and make recommendations.

The bill’s School District Efficiency Commission would review the state’s school districts and make recommendations on consolidating districts. The goal is to reduce the number of districts by 25 percent.

The commission would be made up of elected leaders, experts and groups of interested citizens from across the state, including representatives from statewide professional teachers’ organizations and parent organizations.

2) The Classrooms First Act does not mean losing schools, teachers or principals.

Consolidations recommended by the commission would involve merging districts – not schools. That means fewer district-level administrators, but not fewer schools, teachers or principals.

What’s more, merging administrative bodies would reduce administrative expenses, redirecting funds to be used on students and teachers, where it matters most.

3) The Classrooms First Act does not force district consolidation.

District consolidation recommendations made by the commission would not be mandatory. Instead, any recommendation would go to the voters in the local school district as a ballot question. Voters then would have the power to decide what is best for the students in their district.

What’s more, the commission would not take a one-size-fits-all approach. The act does not mandate that each school district serve the same number of students.

Again, it is local voters – not a state commission – who would have the final say.

4) The Classrooms First Act does not affect collective bargaining for teachers.

The Classrooms First Act makes no changes to Illinois’ collective bargaining laws. Teachers would have the same rights to union representation and bargaining as they have had in the past. In fact, a study by the Center for Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University noted some people perceive consolidations as potentially increasing the power of teachers’ unions.

5) The Classrooms First Act could provide property tax relief.

School districts account for nearly two-thirds of all property taxes collected in Illinois. More efficient education spending through district consolidation, along with an increase in the proportion of state aid that goes into classrooms, can enable significant property tax relief for Illinois residents and a better value for those taxes.

Contact your state representative and senator here. Let them know you support the Classrooms First Act and the benefits it would bring to students, teachers and taxpayers.

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