Analysis: Illinois public school spending grew 12 times faster than enrollment
Illinois’ public K-12 school system spent more than $37 billion last year, 74 percent more than it did two decades ago, according to an analysis of school finance data by Local Government Information Services (LGIS), which publishes Chicago City Wire.
It grew 12 times faster than the system’s student population, which rose just 6 percent over the same period.
In 1997, 905 Illinois public school districts serving 1.7 million students spent $14.3 billion, or $21.4 billion, adjusted for inflation. That’s $12,342 per student.
Last year, 852 districts serving 1.8 million students spent $37.1 billion. That’s $20,191 per student, an increase of 74 percent.
The analysis came as state legislators contemplated changes to Illinois K-12 school funding system that would increase spending even further. A bill sponsored by downstate state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) calls for an increase of at least another 20 percent, or $6.5 billion.
LGIS analyzed financial statements from school districts compiled annually by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), as well as reports filed with the Illinois Department of Insurance by the state’s two public school teacher pension systems.
The analysis found massive increases in spending on both operations and employee pensions.
Operational spending on K-12 schools rose 43 percent from 1997-2016, to $29.1 billion from $20.4 billion.
State taxpayers’ contribution to K-12 school funding rose 27 percent, to $6.8 billion from $5.2 billion.
But that increase couldn’t keep up with local property taxpayers, who increased their spending 43 percent, from $12.9 billion to $18.5 billion.
All spending numbers are inflation-adjusted.
Pension debt increased even more. In 2016, Illinois taxpayers took on another $8 billion in public school employee pension debt, versus $985 million in 1997.
Over the past 20 years, Illinois taxpayers have assumed $56 billion in pension debt for public school employees. They now owe some $80 billion to teacher pension funds alone.
The Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) saw its debt jump from $9.6 billion in 1997 to $71.4 billion in 2016.
The Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund had just $20 million in debt in 1997. Last year, it had $9.6 billion.
Illinois public school funding soars
Over the past two decades, Illinois K-12 public schools have grown 6 percent. But taxpayer spending on them has grown 74 percent.
Sources: Illinois State Board of Education; Illinois Department of Insurance
1997 spending and pension debt is inflation-adjusted.