Illinois school districts spend taxpayer money on Springfield lobbying
Residents are seeing property tax dollars flow toward lobbying for policies that increase homeowners’ property tax bills.
Should local governments use taxpayer money to lobby lawmakers on behalf of their own interests? That’s the question raised by a recent investigation by the Daily Herald into suburban school district spending.
Northwest Suburban High School District 214 gave nearly $80,000 to school administration lobbying groups in fiscal year 2017, according to the investigation. And while this high school district donated the most to lobbying groups, they were far from alone. More than 90 suburban school districts combined contributed more than $2 million to the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Principals Association and Illinois Association of School Business Officials. Collectively, these groups are known as the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance, or ISSMA.
Some might call into question the ethics of using taxpayer dollars intended to aid the education of children instead for furthering school districts’ political aims. But this is not the worst part of the story. Rather, it’s that those political aims are fundamentally at odds with the interests of taxpayers.
ISSMA lobbies for the interests of school administrators at the expense of Illinois taxpayers. This year they filed a witness slip in opposition to HB 4789, which would have placed a sensible cap on the rate at which administrative costs in Illinois’ public school districts could grow. ISSMA also opposes bills that would ease taxpayers’ property tax burden. This year, the group filed a witness slip in opposition to a bill that would give a property tax credit to senior citizens making less than $50,000 per year.
Protecting pay raises for school administrators is irresponsible, given the already-warped spending priorities of Illinois’ education system. A 2017 study by the Metropolitan Planning Council found that Illinois’ school districts spend more than $1 billion a year in administrative expenses, the highest total in the country. This amounts to $518 per student, which is more than double the national average of $210 per student. Further hiking administrative costs will only continue to benefit administrative bodies while offering little value to students or taxpayers within those districts.
School districts should pursue measures that increase transparency and accountability, and prevent abuse of taxpayer funds. Illinoisans already bear the brunt of Springfield’s policy failures that have led to the state’s outsized property tax burden. The average taxpayer should not also have to deal with their own money being used against them.