Less Illinois school bureaucracy would help students achieve
Half of Illinois’ school districts serve one to two schools. Consolidating school districts, but leaving schools alone, would decrease administrative costs and yield more money for classrooms to boost student achievement.
The Illinois Constitution declares it a “fundamental goal” to provide an education system that will allow everyone in the state to reach their full potential, but excessive bureaucratic overhead from too many separate school districts builds a financial barrier to letting students achieve.
Consolidating school districts can produce savings that will directly benefit Illinois students. Almost half of Illinois’ districts serve only one or two schools. Savings on administrative overhead would boost school funding if districts were combined while individual schools were preserved.
Illinois spends more per pupil than neighboring states, but it doesn’t show in academic achievement because administrative costs siphon dollars from classrooms. Compared to neighboring states, Illinois lagged on reading assessments, according to the Nation’s Report Card. Each neighboring state also achieved higher graduation rates.
Nationwide, Illinois ranks 15th for spending per pupil, but 27th on both math and reading assessments since 2003.
Illinois Policy Institute research shows a strong correlation between improved student outcomes and spending on instruction in the classroom, but not between student achievement and spending on district administration.
Nearly 40% of education funding never reaches the classroom. Consolidating districts – not schools – puts more money in classrooms, where it could help students grow as learners.
Administrative costs stem from too many districts. Illinois currently has 852 school districts. If the state were to match the national average of school districts per student, it would reduce the total by 220 – a 25% drop. Reducing administrative spending to the national average per student would save nearly $732 million in unnecessary overhead. Consolidation of districts would improve students’ academic outcomes and save the state money at the same time.
The Classrooms First Act was first introduced by state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, in 2019. Illinois House of Representatives members unanimously passed it, but it never received a full vote in the state Senate.
The act would create the Efficient School District Commission, tasked with making recommendations for consolidating districts. Each recommendation must be approved by local voters. The commission’s goal is to reduce bureaucracy by 25%, aligning Illinois with the national average.
Giving voters the choice to reduce the cost of administration and put more money into classrooms seems like common sense. Putting $732 million a year into classrooms or curbing property taxes would benefit all Illinoisans.