New Report Highlights Crisis in Illinois Schools

A new report examines the wide disparity between wealthy and poor school districts, and cites the state’s over reliance on local property taxes as the culprit in producing huge inequities between school districts. The report, Inequity in Illinois: How Illogical School Funding Has Eroded Public Education, was authored by People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF).

The report draws from a wide selection of research on the troubling state of public education in Illinois. Inequity in Illinois explains how funding inequities have caused districts to close schools, eliminate teaching positions, increase class sizes, eliminate support services like teachers’ aides, and reduce extracurricular and athletic options for students.

The report also puts a face on the problem with a striking case study comparing two Cook County school districts, Glencoe and Midlothian.

The report also finds:

- Almost 80 percent of all school districts in Illinois operate in deficit.

- The state only pays about 36 percent of all school expenses, far below the national average of 50 percent.

- Public education in Illinois is not a level playing field. Average per-pupil spending in some districts is more than $15,000 per student, while other school districts spend less than $5,000 per-pupil.

- The problem is getting worse. This year, 17 percent of the state’s 893 school districts have been identified as being in dire financial trouble - up more than 55 percent from 2003.

- In recent nationally administered tests, Illinois had the largest achievement gap between wealthy and poor students in three out four math and reading tests.

- A recent survey revealed that 56 percent of voters would be willing to reform the school finance system to reduce the over reliance on property taxes responsible for the funding inequities between school districts.

- Over the last three years, Illinois’ tuition tax credit has diverted nearly $200 million from the state treasury. Additionally, Illinois’ corporate tax breaks have cost the state $400 million annually. These funds could have been used to more equitably fund public education.

“This is not a report about money but rather a report about what money buys,” said Nancy Keenan, education policy director at PFAWF. “It takes more than dollars to provide a child with a quality education. It takes small classes, quality and experienced teachers, safe and clean facilities, and extra programs to help students who are struggling. Unfortunately, none of these vital components can be had for free. Illinois has some of the finest public schools in the nation, right alongside some of our worst. Let’s look to schools that are succeeding and bring that success to those that are not.”

“A quality education is the right of every child,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of PFAWF. “On behalf of our 24,000 Illinois members and activists, I urge Illinois’ political leadership to invest in its children before a bad situation gets worse.”

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