Illinois spends more per student on school administration than any other state, report finds

The majority of the local property taxes go to fund public school districts.
graduation photo from MGN

(Illinois News Network) — Illinois spends more on public school administrators per student than any other state in the nation.

A new analysis of public school spending by the Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council found Illinois spends $544 per student on administrative, non-teaching costs. That’s more than double the national average. Illinois was the only state that spent more than $1 billion in administrative costs in 2016.

“There’s just a lot of administration going around,” Metropolitan Planning Council Vice President Josh Ellis said.

Illinois has 852 school districts. That’s more than any other state. Administrative costs add up, he said.

“That’s not teacher salaries, not support services, not coaches, not clubs. It’s superintendents, their staff, the capital costs of having an office, photocopiers, things like that,” Ellis said.

Illinois’ highest-in-the-nation per-pupil spending ratio would be even higher if not for Chicago Public Schools, which has about 600 schools serving about 361,000 students.

“That is actually pulling the average down,” Ellis said. “We’re paying for a whole lot of stuff that isn’t frontline education.”

The result of this, Ellis said, is higher taxes and less money going into the classroom.

The Metropolitan Planning Council recommended eliminating some of the smaller school district administrations and sharing services with others to be able to put more money back into the classroom, possibly even lowering costs for taxpayers.

“We could have consolidation between districts or service sharing between districts,” he said. “That would free up money.”

If Illinois spent the national average amount on school admin costs, taxpayers could save $645 million annually.

The Illinois Association of School Administrators took issue with the idea of forced consolidation.

“The idea it’s better for children to force school districts to share superintendents or consolidate is [shortsighted] and may not even save money if the district is forced to hire other personnel,” the association said in a statement Thursday. “Plus, the idea of triggering a referendum process completely ignores the critical importance of a good selection process for the leader of any business or organization. If sharing is the right thing to do, then locally elected school boards who have all of the information can make that decision. Nothing prevents that in current statute. In fact, more than 20 districts are already doing so.”

The association also defended the work superintendents do.

“Lastly, superintendents are the leaders of school districts and are critical in setting positive cultures, implementing new strategies to improve learning and setting policies to ensure student safety,” the statement said. “They also run the local business of school districts. It’s an incredibly important job, and it is critical to have someone who is the right fit based upon the district’s mission, vision, core values and goals.”

Illinoisans shoulder the highest property tax rates in the nation, periodically giving up that title to New Jersey. The majority of the local property taxes go to fund public school districts.