Classrooms First Act unanimously passes Illinois House committee

Classrooms First Act unanimously passes Illinois House committee

A bill to channel education dollars from duplicate bureaucracy and into classrooms or back to property taxpayers won committee approval. It is headed for a full vote in the Illinois House.

Illinois state Rep. Rita Mayfield’s bill to put classrooms and taxpayers ahead of Illinois’ growing school district bureaucracy won unanimous approval March 24, despite heavy opposition from the district administrators who stand to lose.

House Bill 7, the Classrooms First Act, passed the Illinois House Elementary and Secondary Education committee 8-0 and now enters an ongoing discussion with different stakeholders to bring it to its best possible form for students and taxpayers before moving to an Illinois House floor vote. While 716 filed opposition to the bill, including 113 district administrators making at least $100,000 a year as of March 22, there were 3,420 Illinois residents in favor of the bill – a fact duly noted during the committee hearing.

“It’s time to do what’s best for students, teachers and residents across the state: ensure education dollars make it into the classroom. Illinois’ excessive layers of wasteful and duplicative district bureaucracy are a barrier to this goal,” said Adam Schuster, senior director of budget and tax research for Illinois Policy.

“We applaud Rep. Mayfield’s efforts and that of the entire committee,” Schuster said. “School district consolidation is a proven strategy to boost education quality and student outcomes. Illinois residents deserve a chance to decide directly on how many layers of district administration is right for their community.”

The act would prioritize classrooms, students and teachers over bureaucracy in education funding by forming a commission to study school district consolidation, and then make recommendations for local voters to decide on the mergers. No schools would close, but Illinois has twice as many school districts as the national average and all that administrative duplication comes at a cost.

The Classrooms First Act aims to reduce Illinois’ 2.5-times-the-national-average spending on “general administration” costs by consolidating 25% of the state’s 852 school districts. Nearly half serve only one or two schools.

Illinois’ student and teacher populations each dropped 2% between 2014 and 2018, but administration grew 1.5% during that time. In 2017 there were over 9,000 school administrators in Illinois who made $100,000 or more per year.

All that excess bureaucracy leads to high costs: Illinois spent $1.19 billion on district-level administration in 2018. California is able to serve three times as many students as Illinois for over one-third less.

Those costs are only related to district superintendents and board costs, including marketing and human resources. They do not include school principals and the bill would not close any individual school or cost a school its team colors or mascots.

What it would likely do is raise students’ academic achievements.

2018 study found increasing the size of a district to 1,000 students improves the average SAT score by 48 points, with another 14 points added by increasing to 2,000 students.

Illinois spends $598 per student on district-level administration, more than 2.5 times the national average of $237. If Illinois reduced its general administrative spending to the national average per student, it would save $716.6 million in bureaucratic costs.

That amount is over double the $350 million state leaders promised to boost school spending each year when they revamped the school funding formula in 2017. That promise was broken for the current school year, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker keeping school spending flat. He’s proposed doing the same again in his upcoming budget.

Illinois spends more than Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana on education but gets worse results. Illinois dedicates more education dollars to district level administrators, as well as education in general, but all three states post better scores than Illinois in K-12 math and reading proficiency, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress.

School districts consume two-thirds of property taxes in Illinois. Reducing the number of school district and the costs associated them would make a big dent in those property taxes.

HB 7 would create a School District Efficiency Commission that would review the state’s 852 school districts and make recommendations for consolidating 25% of them. The recommendations would then go to district voters as a ballot question. Both districts in consideration would have to approve the measure separately by majority votes to merge.

School district consolidation refers only to reducing costs associated with district administration and the school board – jobs such as superintendents, human resources and marketing. District consolidation does not reduce the number of schools or teachers or principals or guidance counselors. The bill specifically protects schools, their team colors and mascots by prohibiting the commission from recommending that any schools close.

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