Education efficiency bill would prioritize classroom spending

Education efficiency bill would prioritize classroom spending

A bill in the Illinois House would empower voters to reform the funding priorities of their local school districts.

A bill in the Illinois House of Representatives would give voters more control over targeting tax dollars to local school classrooms, while potentially lowering property tax bills.

State Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, introduced House Bill 3053, also known as Classrooms First Act, on Feb. 15, which would identify administrative bloat and empower local taxpayers to trim it at the ballot box.

The bill would create the School District Efficiency Commission, tasked with reviewing the state’s 852 school districts, which together consume nearly two-thirds of property taxes collected in Illinois. The commission would then make recommendations for consolidating redundant administrative functions based on their findings, and set a statewide goal for the average number of students served per district.

Importantly, consolidation of school districts strictly involves merging administrative bodies, not closing individual schools. As of 2016, school districts served just 2,399 students per district, the fifth-lowest among states with school populations over 1 million, suggesting ample room for cost-saving efficiency. If Illinois served the same number of students per district as Virginia, it would have just 210 districts, 642 fewer than it has today.

The commission’s recommendations would go directly to voters as a ballot question, putting control in the hands of parents, teachers and local taxpayers living within the school district. The bill would not require each school district to meet a statewide per-student district target, allowing room for districts to make reforms based on regional differences.

Finally, the bill would require all newly formed districts to be unit districts, meaning they’d serve both high schools and elementary schools. Data from the Illinois State Board of Education shows unit districts are the most efficient in terms of spending per student.

Currently, Illinois spends among the highest per student on education in the Midwest, but student outcomes lag. Why hasn’t more money translated to higher scores? Illinois ranks 8th in the nation in administrative spending as a percentage of education spending, meaning a large portion of those funds never reach the classroom.

School district administrators collecting six-figure salaries across the state provide numerous examples of misplaced education spending priorities. Take Troy Paraday, former superintendent of Calumet City School District 155, who earned salary and benefits totaling $440,000 per year. Despite such lavish compensation, District 155 serves just three schools and 1,100 students. After an investigation into “pay padding” and other abuses, the district fired Paraday in October 2018. Excessive administrator salaries remain commonplace in Illinois school districts.

Illinois’ excessive spending on administration diverts state education dollars from teachers and students, and inflates local property tax bills. By advancing Mayfield’s bill, state lawmakers would redirect more education funds where they belong – classrooms – offering students a better education and residents some property tax relief.

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