Illinois education spending belongs in classrooms, not in administrative offices

Illinois education spending belongs in classrooms, not in administrative offices

A bill in the Illinois House would work to consolidate administration of Illinois’ schools without closing schools. The move would put more money in classrooms and take less from property taxpayers.

A bill that could ensure more education dollars in Illinois are spent on students, teachers and classrooms rather than administration was recently introduced by state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan.

House Bill 7 also has the potential to provide property tax relief. It is in the House Rules Committee.

“We applaud Rep. Mayfield’s efforts to ensure our education resources flow to students and classrooms, where they do the most good.” said Adam Schuster, senior director of budget and tax research for the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute. “Reducing redundant and duplicative administrative bodies is a common-sense, proven strategy to save taxpayer money while improving student outcomes.”

In Illinois, district-level “general administration” costs $581 per student, higher than all neighboring states and nearly double the national average. That high cost is thanks to the state’s overabundance of school districts, which serve far too few students per district when compared with other states.

The bill aims to consolidate 25% of Illinois’ 852 school districts, which would bring Illinois closer to the national average. Were Illinois to match the students per district of Virginia, for example, it would have only 210 districts – 642 fewer than at present.

Voters would get the final say before any districts are merged.

School spending accounts for nearly two-thirds of all property taxes collected statewide. A reduction in school districts would generate savings by decreasing administrative bloat and allowing more education dollars to reach the classroom.

Illinois was the only state that spent more than $1 billion on district-level administrative costs in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. California has three times as many students but spent nearly 40% less than Illinois on district administration. This spending only represents costs of superintendents, district-level administration and school boards. It does not include administrative spending within schools, such as on guidance counselors or principals.

Illinois spent $2,400 to $4,000 more per student than neighboring states Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana, according to the 2017 Census data. Yet, all three states scored better on K-12 math and reading proficiency.

HB 7 would create the School District Efficiency Commission, tasked with making recommendations for consolidating districts. Voters in each affected school district would have to approve the consolidation by a majority vote, so one district could not force another to merge unless residents in each separately agreed.

Reducing school district administration also reduces the number of administrative salaries. In 2017, there were over 9,000 school administrators in Illinois who made $100,000 or more per year, each of whom is expected to receive $3 million or more during their retirements from taxpayer-funded pensions.

Having too many districts in Illinois fails students. The Illinois House in 2019 recognized that and unanimously passed a similar measure also sponsored by Mayfield.

State lawmakers should do so again, with the Illinois Senate joining in to put the needs of teachers, students and taxpayers ahead of administrative spending.

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