Education is the great equalizer. It allows all Americans, no matter their backgrounds, to triumph from their own merit and determination. It is fundamentally the key mechanism to attaining the American Dream.
Establishing and implementing high-quality education for our nation’s children is essential; yet, increased investment from government has been met with stagnated student achievement. According to the latest OCED report of educational spending, based on 2011 data, the U.S. spends more than $11,000 per elementary student and more than $12,000 per high school student. When factoring in the costs of college prep or vocational training, the U.S. spends $15,171 on each child, more than any other nation covered in the report. For comparison, it edged out Switzerland’s total per-student spend of $14,922, and far surpassed Mexico’s average of $2,993. The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per pupil.
In the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)’s “Education in America- and How to Improve It” report by Frederick M. Hess, Andrew P. Kelly, Michael Q. McShane, and Katharine B. Stevens, the authors state, “The problem is, despite decades of growing public investment, our existing K–12 and higher education systems do not provide nearly enough opportunity to reap these benefits. The high school graduation rate across the country is just under 75% overall; this figure drops to 62% for African-American students. Despite per-pupil spending having almost tripled in real terms since 1970, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, or the “Nation’s Report Card”) have remained stagnant. According to a recent report from the US Chamber of Commerce, only 35% and 34% of eighth graders are proficient on the NAEP reading and math exams, respectively. The situation is even worse in American cities; in Washington, DC, for instance, less than 20% of eighth graders are deemed proficient on the NAEP reading and math exams.”
Innovative approaches are crucial to reforming and restructuring the K-12 education system, transforming it into a seamless, deregulated marketplace. Enabling parents empowers them and holds schools accountable. School choice is a way to invest in our children—our country’s future.
What You Need to Know About Illinois K-12 Education
- Illinois has experienced a poor return on investment when it comes to education spending. Student outcomes have remained stagnant even though total spending on education in Illinois has grown at an average nominal rate of more than 5 percent a year – and by 60 percent in real terms – since fiscal year 1994.
- The purpose of the state’s General State Aid funding has become warped, as it now gives funds to school districts to subsidize Tax Increment Financing districts and property-tax caps. The state could save up to $500 million a year if those special subsidies were eliminated.
- The growth in non-teaching and administrative jobs has bloated education budgets and made an inefficient system even more so. Between 1992 and 2009, the number of administrative and non-teaching staff in Illinois has grown almost 2.5 times faster than the actual growth in student population. An extra 18,000 non-teaching staff costs Illinois nearly $1 billion in yearly additional administrative costs.
- Most studies show that teachers earning graduate degrees do nothing to boost student achievement. But Illinois increases teacher salaries by an average of $11,190 when they earn their master’s degrees – the biggest such increase in the country. Such spending eats up $941 million in education dollars a year.
- Teachers in the Chicago Public Schools system take home an average salary of almost $72,000 a year – a higher average than any of the large metropolitan cities in the U.S. In comparison, the mean wage for a Chicago worker is only $31,052.
- More than 40 percent of Illinois elementary-school students are unable to do grade-level work in math and reading. And 46 percent of Illinois high-school students are unable to do grade-level work in math and reading.
- More than half of Illinois’ high-school students are not ready for college, according to ACT test scores
- More than 20 percent of students at Chicago’s worst elementary schools are significantly behind grade level in reading, meaning they have a difficult time determining the main idea of a persuasive essay or plot of a short story.
- Nearly half of all students at Chicago’s worst high schools are significantly behind grade level in math, meaning they can’t solve simple algebraic equations.
- The result is students who are left with few tools to succeed in life. Of all Chicago Public School graduates, 45 percent begin their senior year not doing well enough academically to attend a four-year college. After graduating, a majority of these students are neither employed nor in school.
How We Compare
|STATE||2013 NAEP RANK||OVERALL EDUCATION POLICY GRADE
|HONESTY GAP (4TH GRADE READING)||HONESTY GAP (8TH GRADE MATH)||CHARTER SCHOOL GRADE
|FUNDING PER STUDENT||TEACHER GRADE
|Illinois||30||C||23 points||24 points||C||$11,671||C+|
|TOP 5 STATES||Massachusetts||1||C||7 points||3 points||C||$14, 262||B-|
|New Jersey||2||C+||18 points||23 points||C||$16, 933||B-|
|Vermont||3||D+||27 points||17 points||N/A||$15, 576||D|
|Indiana||4||B+||48 points||43 points||A||$9,256||B-|
|Colorado||5||C+||26 points||10 points||B||$8, 901||C+|
|BOTTOM 5 STATES||Arizona||47||B-||48 points||28 points||B||$7, 737||C-|
|Louisiana||48||B-||53 points||43 points||C||$10, 887||B|
|South Dakota||49||D+||43 points||36 points||N/A||$9, 105||D-|
|West Virginia||50||C-||16 points||15 points||N/A||$11,987||C-|
|South Carolina||51||C+||49 points||39 points||B||$8, 935||C-|
The Achievement Gap
According to the Illinois Policy Institute:
- 72% of students enrolled in the state’s lowest-achieving elementary schools were unable to meet benchmarks in math. 53% of these students are a grade level behind, and 19% of students are two or more grade levels behind.
- 72% of third graders enrolled in the state’s lowest-achieving schools were unable to meet benchmarks in reading curriculum, meaning these students failed to differentiate between the details and main ideas of stories.
- Greater than one-third of high school students at the state’s lowest-achieving schools only are able to perform middle-school level mathematics.
- 6% of high school students at the state’s lowest-achieving schools are deemed “college-ready” by their ACT scores. Students considered ready for college have a minimum of a 50% chance of receiving a “B” or a 75% chance of receiving a “C” in their first-year college courses in reading, writing, math, and science.
In addition, minority students in Illinois are performing considerably worse than their white counterparts.
It is not uncommon knowledge that dropping out of high school and ending up in prison have often been found to go hand-in-hand. But it might not be as well-known that for African-American men born in the years 1975-1979, these trends are specifically considerable: according to the Illinois Policy Institute, for those in this group that dropped out of high school, 7 in 10 have been imprisoned. These national-level statistics can be seen on a smaller scale in Illinois, as African-Americans make up 60% of the incarcerated population, and only 31.7% of the state’s incarcerated population graduated from high school.
Although the skewed ratio of black to other races in prison cannot be entirely due to education levels, the significant correlation is still there. Only 1 in 3 black students in the state’s public schools were reading at grade level in 2014, as opposed to 69% for their white counterparts; only 17% of Illinois black students’ ACT scores are deemed “college-ready,” as opposed to 61% of their white counterparts in 2014.
This “achievement gap” is also seen between the state’s Hispanic and white students, according to another report released by the Illinois Policy Institute. The stakes are quite considerable here, as Hispanics are the largest minority population in the state. Hispanic students comprise 25% of the entire student population and almost half of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. And yet, only 40% of the state’s Hispanic third-graders are reading at grade-level, in stark contrast to the 69% of white students reading at grade level. Although math scores have lower than this 29% achievement gap, outcomes are not much brighter–Hispanic children are still lagging behind their white counterparts by 23%. And these chasms only grow larger as the students enter high school, as only 29% of Hispanic students’ ACT scores are worthy of a “college- and career-ready” status, which differs greatly from the 61% of white students who achieved this level. Interestingly enough, this massive Hispanic population is fairly concentrated–in fact, almost 55% of these students attend school in just 10 districts, many of which are included in the state’s lower-performing, poorer districts.
As will be covered in sections below, many causes of these low performance rates can be traced back to complex issues such as funding challenges and school choice. Although there is no panacea for redeeming failing schools, which can be seen across the nation, there are a number of understood reforms districts can enact to improve.
Problems with Funding
Although Illinois schools are accessing more state funds, performance is inert. This occurrence can be traced back to unnecessary raises in teacher pay and manipulation of the General State Aid. Many policy makers simply say increasing the money supply to failing schools in the state will solve the problem completely. But unfortunately, additional monies do not always improve outcomes.
According to the Illinois Policy Institute, education spending in the state has been growing at an average nominal rate of over 5% annually since 1994, and yet, student test results are not showing signs of improvement. Some of the state’s lowest performing schools also have been receiving an increase in funding, with no progress.
A large portion of this increase in funding for Illinois schools has gone to a consistent rise in administrative and non-teaching jobs. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, between 1992 and 2009, the growth rate of these administrative and non-teaching jobs in Illinois was nearly 2.5 times greater than the increase in student population. A supplemental staff of 18,000 non-teachers costs the state almost a billion dollars in annual administrative costs.
Illinois also raises teachers’ salaries by an average of more than $11,000 when they receive their master’s degreesmaster’s degrees. This increase is the highest in the nation. This type of pay raise pinches more than $941 million annually from the education budget. And yet, most studies prove that earning these degrees have no impact on student performance.
The General State Aid
The state’s largest allotment for K-12 education expenses is known as the General State Aid (GSA), a fund of $4.8 billion. The GSA fund’s complicated formulas have always served to give school districts aid based on property wealth and the amount of students in poverty. If a district has less property wealth, it receives more GSA money; if a district has more underprivileged students, it receives more GSA money—in the simplest terms of the formula.
However, in recent years, the laws have been given loopholes in which certain districts can report a lower value than their actual property wealth. This stems from two aspects of the formulas:
- The Property Tax Extension Law Limit (PTELL) Adjustment, which allows districts restrained by property tax caps to underreport the actual value of their property. Since this adjustment was put into place, Chicago and its surrounding areas benefited the most.
- Tax Increment Financing (TIF) subsidies, which permit school districts with particular economic areas to downsize their actual property values, thus becoming eligible for more GSA money. Again, Chicago and its surrounding counties benefited the most, as 85% of the value removed from the GSA formulas due to TIF zones came from these districts.
In addition to property wealth loopholes, changes in the formula that determines which students are low-income have allowed thousands more students now to be deemed as underprivileged. In 2000, under $300 million was given to Illinois school districts to support low-income students. However, in 2013, this aid increased to $1.8 billion.
Illinois students are ensnared in failing schools because there is not an adequate array of school choice programs to save them. In a state with failing schools as such, it is difficult for students to get the education they deserve. In several other states, school choice is prominent and varied, allowing children to choose the model that works best for them. However, there is a blatant lack of school choice in Illinois, trapping students in failing schools. In fact, Illinois ranks 41st in educational freedom in the nation, according to the First in Freedom Index. Here are the limited school choice options Illinois does have, according to the Heritage Foundation:
- Intra-district transfers between public schools in certain districts
- Tax credits of 25% of average student costs (no more than $500 per family) to cover educational costs, such as private school tuition
- A small number of virtual schools
- Charter schools
Although there are some schools from which a student can choose, albeit limited, the state of Illinois will not give funding to students, trapping low- and middle-income families.
Despite challenges with school choice policies overall, Illinois’ 148 charter schools are impressive, serving 14% of Chicago public school students and 6,000 more outside the city. On average, Illinois charter schools excel in comparison to traditional public schools in the state. 74% of charter high schools out-performed district schools on the 2014 ACT; 66% of the state’s charter elementary schools surpassed district schools in reading in 2014, and 56% surpassed district schools in math.
And yet, these innovative, independent schools are met with fierce opposition in the state. Legislators have set a cap on the number of charter schools in the state, and local boards must approve the schools. These boards often deny authorization. According to the Chicago Tribune, a lot of school districts allegedly wish to “protect their monopoly on public education.”
Charter schools also can be authorized by the Illinois State Charter School Commission, but many legislators are working to abolish the commission altogether, making it that much more difficult to establish charter schools in the state. Opponents of the State Charter School Commission argue that deciding whether or not to create a charter school should be a local decision. Since its creation in 2011, the State Charter School Commission has authorized four charter schools.
Part of the reason for perhaps eradicating the State Charter School Commission can be traced back to the Chicago Teachers’ Union, who went on strike in the fall of 2012 due to their unhappiness with proposals to develop more charter schools in the state. Animosity from educators has pressured policymakers into questioning whether or not the State Charter School Commission should remain active, although the Commission was created in order to ensure local districts were not rejecting charter schools for their own advances.
Nina Rees, CEO of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools presents a good view of Louisiana’s progress in the U.S News and World Report feature, “Big Results in the Big Easy”. However, it is important to note that while a good step, charter schools are only one of the options for choice in a full range of solutions. Charter schools should not be viewed as equivalent to school choice.
Principles of Reform
AEI’s report, “Education in America- and How to Improve It”, asserts that “creating a vibrant education system that provides opportunity for all must rest on a number of core principles”. AEI recommends the following core principles of reform:
- A limited federal role
- Expanding the choice agenda, and
- Making K–12 and higher education markets work.
This briefing centers on #2, expanding the choice agenda, and #3 as it relates to K-12 markets. A limited federal role and higher education markets will be discussed in additional Policy Circle papers.
Universal Access to School Choice
When we discuss expanding the choice agenda and K-12 markets, the question often debated is whether all students should have access to school choice policies, regardless of their income level or school performance. The public support for school choice is there—this can be seen on websites such as Give Me Choice Waukgan. In a short post desperately entitled “Let Me Choose Please,” a mother speaks of her young son being forced to take a dangerous 45-minute walk just to get home from school every day because of the lack of choice in the state.
According to the Friedman Foundation, neighboring state Indiana has an extensive voucher program, with nearly 20,000 students receiving vouchers. Illinois could benefit greatly from following Indiana’s and other states’ examples of more school choice incentives. Personal benefits of Indiana’s programs can be seen in this video, released by the Illinois Policy Institute. Illinois lawmakers could implement programs similar to Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, Nevada’s and Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, several states’ Tax Credit Scholarship Programs, or Tennessee’s Achievement School Districts.
- The Choice Scholarship Program allows low-income students to receive funds to attend private schools of their choice. If an expansive voucher program were implemented by Illinois, it would be an effective way to ensure money was following each student, not simply being pumped into school districts. Vouchers are given directly to families.
- Empowerment Scholarship Accounts or Education Savings Accounts enable parents to remove their children from public schools and receive the funding the state would have spent on their children in a bank account. The funds in the account can be used for things such as private school tuition, online schooling, or tutoring.
Nevada recently revolutionized its school choice program by implementing universal Education Savings Accounts. Regardless of income, all public school students will have access to private education accounts beginning in 2016. Students can harness these public funds in order to find the educational program that best fits their needs. This legislation is freeing the education market more than any other state in the nation. For more information about Nevada, click here.
Some opponents in the Nevada legislature have called the act “unconstitutional and reckless.” In an opinion article published in U.S. News & World Report, David Osborne from the Progressive Policy Institute argues the program will serve to widen the achievement gap, as parents are allowed to add to their education savings account in order to afford more costly schools.
Nevertheless, the program is already receiving broad approval from a variety of sources, such as the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Watchdog, and the Goldwater Institute. ESAs are present in Arizona—although here they are not as inclusive—and parents in the state have given highly positive feedback regarding the program. Other benefits of Education Savings Accounts may be found here.
- Tax Credit Scholarship Programs, which are present in 16 states, are innovative programs in which donors give to nonprofit organizations who then award low- and middle-income students (although some states have more stipulations for those who can receive the scholarships) with scholarships to attend different schools. If an expansive voucher program were implemented by Illinois, it would be an effective way to ensure money was following each student, not simply being pumped into school districts. Vouchers are given directly to families. The public support for school choice is there—this can be seen on websites such as Give Me Choice Waukgan. In a short post desperately entitled “Let Me Choose Please,” a mother speaks of her young son being forced to take a dangerous 45-minute walk just to get home from school every day because of the lack of choice in the state.
- Lastly in regards to school choice, Achievement School Districts (ASD) are options to expand choice as well. In Tennessee, the lowest performing schools in the state can be moved into the ASD with the goal of increasing student achievement. The ASD’s assigned task is to move the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee to the top 25% by 2018. Louisiana, and Arizona also have embraced ASD in their states.
If the Illinois’ school choice program were expanded, it would greatly serve to lower the widening achievement gaps between whites and racial minorities in the state. By offering these minority children a way out from the schools that are failing them, it is very possible the state would see less achievement divides between the races, more high school diplomas, and better opportunities for previously lesser-educated students to avoid prison.
Inconsistencies in Funding
A report released by the Illinois Policy Institute argues for the complete abolition of the GSA special subsidies (PTELL, TIF, and Poverty Grants). If this were to be put into place, the system would become less politicized, taking the jurisdiction away from those in politics and the teachers’ union. Rather, the parents of students could be the ones controlling the money supply, thereby increasing accountability for schools and offering all students more choices.
Just because a state funds education at a higher level does not mean that the money is being directed to the classroom. Understanding how money is spent in education is a challenge, as to quote the AEI’s report, “Education in America- and How to Improve It”, “ we don’t know how much it costs to educate a student. We know how much we spend, but because public schools are funded in lump sums to districts- even voucher, tax-credit, and charter-school allotments are lump-sum coupons to purchase education- we see schools set their costs right at the government subsidy”. One is unable to obtain from a school district one-page summary regarding the flow of dollars to a student; thus, there is a general lack of transparency. Applying business, free market principles and “unbundling education services” to the funding conversation would provide more reliability and accountability to the system in its entirety.
Decentralizing Education, Mission Development and Rigorous Accountability
Current regulations prevent public schools from operating in a way that makes sense for their unique student constituencies. State and federal governments must clear the way with fewer regulations and barriers to innovation.
An Indiana organization, the Mind Trust, opines in its “Creating Opportunity Schools” report that school leaders must be empowered to establish clear, focused missions. Students have different needs and are best met by different educational arrangements. Successful schools understand their unique mission and values and operate accordingly. Schools must be accountable for their results. School accountability is another robust topic and is not discussed in detail in this Policy Circle paper.
Additional Reform Measures
The state has already taken steps to account for accountability with the launch of the new and improved Illinois Report Card. However, this information is often unusable due to the lack of school choice in the state. True accountability can only occur when education dollars follow the child, ensuring that parents have greater say in how education funds are spent.
Rewarding effective teachers
Governor Rauner proposed rewarding effective teachers in his reform package: “Bring Back Blueprint: Education Reform,” a proposition to increase educational value in the state. Teachers could receive merit pay and tax credits, further asserting the notion of accountability. The state has already been in the process of expanding this, as is evident in the passage of the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) and Senate Bill 7.
What can YOU do? Ways to Engage
Thoughts Leaders in Education
There are a number of groups and thought leaders that opine in the education arena space. They provide insightful background information, up to date information at the state and/or federal level, and often provide suggestions for engagement. Take some time to review where the entities stand and what they hope to accomplish in Illinois. In addition, several of these sites provide daily or weekly email updates to which you can subscribe. For additional policy engagement, explore the links below:
American Action Forum– A center-right policy institute providing actionable research and analysis to solve America’s most pressing policy challenges.
American Enterprise Institute– Community scholars and supporters committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise.
CATO– A public policy research organization — a think tank – dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.
Center for American Progress– An independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Their aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country.
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice– A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1996 by Milton and Rose D. Friedman to advance a K–12 education system in which all parents, regardless of race, origin, or family income, are free to choose a learning environment—public-c or private, near or far, religious or secular—that works best for them.
Give Me Choice Waukegan– A Waukegan-based program advocating for more school choice programs in the state.
Heritage Foundation– A conservative research and educational institution—a think tank—whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.
Illinois Kids Campaign– A campaign with the mission of influencing legislators to provide tax credits to teachers who use personal money for classroom expenditures; maintain funding to music, arts, and sports programs; increase donations to nonprofit scholarship administrations; and present funds to schools to keep facilities safe.
Illinois Policy Institute– The Illinois Policy Institute is an independent research and education organization generating public policy solutions aimed at promoting personal freedom and prosperity in Illinois.
The New Teacher Project– A group stationed in multiple cities across the country, including Indianapolis, and works to close gaps in education inequality.
Opportunity Lives– A news platform dedicated to discovering and highlighting real-life success stories and solutions across America. Values include supporting a free society and limited government.
P-20 Council– A legislative-established organization that advises state agencies on educational policy, chaired by Dr. Elizabeth Purvis, the Secretary of Education.
State Policy Network: A collection of 65 market-oriented, state-focused think tanks representing all 50 states.
Representatives need to hear from their constituents in order to make thoughtful, confident choices—make your opinions and wishes known to yours. Write letters, vote, boycott, form petitions, fundraise, contact your local newspaper, run for office—if you have an opinion, make it known. Recognize that this is your community.
Research your local town hall and find out its schedule. Attend meetings and voice your opinions and concerns.
Although the Illinois General Assembly is currently not in session, a number of bills in past sessions have attempted to implement school choice. Current bills are available on the General Assembly’s website.
Representative Jeanne M Ives (R), A supporter of conservative education policy 218-N Stratton Office Building Springfield, IL 62706 (217) 558 1037 (217) 782 1275 Ives@jeanneives.org
Representative Thomas Morrison (R) A supporter of conservative education policy 234-N Stratton Office Building Springfield, IL 62706 (217) 782 8026 (217) 782 1275 Repmorrison54@gmail.com
Senator William Delgado Chairperson of the Senate Education Committee. 623 Capitol Building Springfield, IL 62706 (217) 782-5652
Representative Esther Golar Chairperson of the House Elementary & Secondary Education: School Curriculum & Policies Committee. 268-S Stratton Office Building Springfield, IL 62706 (217) 782-5971 email@example.com
Senator Matt Murphy A known activist in the fight for school choice. 309H Capitol Building Springfield, IL 62706 (217) 782-4471
Give thought to vigilance at the local school district level. The largest share of Illinois property taxes (62%+),–in Waukegan it is 68%–go to the local schools.
Despite this major taxpayer investment, school boards receive the least taxpayer scrutiny.
Few voters participate in school board elections, attend board meetings or review district budgets. The local media rarely covers school board meetings until there is conflict.
Consider contacting your representatives and letting them know what you think. A list of valuable contacts can be found below.
Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777
- Tony Smith, State Superintendent
- James. T. Meeks, Chairman, Chicago
- Curtis Bradshaw, Naperville
- Lula Ford, Chicago
- Steven R. Gilford, Board Vice Chair, Evanston
- Melina A. LaBarre, Secretary, Springfield
- Craig Lindvahl, Effingham
- Eligio Pimentel, Oak Park
- John Sanders, Marion
On their website, you can delve further into details regarding all aspects of the state’s school system, including report cards, assessments, reports, teacher information, and homeschooling.
Useful Tools and Articles
Download the app Vote Spotter, a great tool that makes it easy to get involved in legislation. Simply turn on your location services, and you immediately receive information regarding your national representatives and current legislation on the floor.
Did you know that civic engagement could be good for your brain? A study from Johns Hopkins argues this case. Check out the investigation, and learn of yet another way civic engagement is beneficial.
Explore Ballotpedia for Illinois, a great way to keep up to date with all things policy and elections.
- Is school choice a good thing?
- Should choice be all inclusive and not need based?
- Is choice important for students and parents? If so, what will it take to make legislators realize that students need more choice?
- Should the education system be a free-market, or does this simply threaten traditional public schools?
- Is a free-market education system the best option for the country’s students?
- How can the state further empower parents to make decisions regarding education for their children?
- How can Illinois’ funding system be changed so that its focus is students rather than politics and control?
- Are the General State Aid subsidies unfair and mismanaged, or an accurate way to measure wealth in communities with self-imposed property tax caps?
- Should the amount of funding a school receives be based on proficiency?
- If so, should funding be increased to failing school districts, with the intention of improving them?
- Is money the panacea for charter school issues, or could these issues be solved with a second look at restructuring?
- Should business principles be applied to schools and school districts to provide greater transparency in the costs to educate a student?
- Are charter schools the competition public schools need to become more accountable for their proficiency?
- Or, do charter schools only serve as unfair competition that will ultimately terminate failing public schools altogether?
- Can failing public schools in the state be redeemed, and if so, how?
- Should Illinois create more authorizers to allow for additional charter schools in the state?