Researchers to put price tag on educating all Illinois students to high standards

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The National Center for Education Statistics has updated its figures on state education spending, and Illinois—as usual—lags behind. But this year, researchers at National Louis University hope to jumpstart the school funding conversation with a new definition of “adequate spending.”

Here’s what the latest federal numbers show for fiscal year 2007 (the latest available from NCES):

  • Median per-pupil spending in Illinois districts was $9,083 per pupil, below all but six states.
  • For instructional expenses only, the state’s median spending was $5,079, well below the national median of $5,824.
  • Revenue-rich Illinois districts generated 120 percent more funding than poor districts. Only 19 states had a wider disparity.
  • Chicago spent $9,666 per pupil and ranks among the top 25 percent among the 100 largest school districts. But cost-of-living differences and the extra expenses associated with educating a large population of disadvantaged students complicate the comparison. Indeed, Chicago comes up short when compared to other big cities that also serve large numbers of disadvantaged children. These districts spent significantly more: Boston ($19,435), New York ($16,443), Washington DC ($14,324), Atlanta ($12,745), Baltimore ($12,440), Cleveland ($11,383) and Los Angeles ($10,364). Spending less: Miami-Dade ($9,371), Philadelphia ($8,985), Dallas ($8,416), and Houston ($7,994).

The National Center for Education Statistics has updated its figures on state education spending, and Illinois—as usual—lags behind. But this year, researchers at National Louis University hope to jumpstart the school funding conversation with a new definition of “adequate spending.”

Here’s what the latest federal numbers show for fiscal year 2007 (the latest available from NCES):

  • Median per-pupil spending in Illinois districts was $9,083 per pupil, below all but six states.
  • For instructional expenses only, the state’s median spending was $5,079, well below the national median of $5,824.
  • Revenue-rich Illinois districts generated 120 percent more funding than poor districts. Only 19 states had a wider disparity.
  • Chicago spent $9,666 per pupil and ranks among the top 25 percent among the 100 largest school districts. But cost-of-living differences and the extra expenses associated with educating a large population of disadvantaged students complicate the comparison. Indeed, Chicago comes up short when compared to other big cities that also serve large numbers of disadvantaged children. These districts spent significantly more: Boston ($19,435), New York ($16,443), Washington DC ($14,324), Atlanta ($12,745), Baltimore ($12,440), Cleveland ($11,383) and Los Angeles ($10,364). Spending less: Miami-Dade ($9,371), Philadelphia ($8,985), Dallas ($8,416), and Houston ($7,994).

The new figures arrive just as the Illinois State Board of Education gears up for fall budget hearings that, unlike in previous years, should be guided by better information.

Responding directly to a lawsuit filed by the Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, Gov. Pat Quinn has reconstituted the state’s Education Funding Advisory Board. The group met in August and will meet again this month, and is charged with setting an advisory level for minimum per-pupil spending by districts. Illinois, however, has never reached the minimum level set by boards under previous administrations.

But a more accurate measure of “adequate” spending will also be available this year. Researchers at National-Louis University launched the Illinois School Funding Adequacy Initiative two years ago and expect to publish their results by the end of October.

The researchers have closely examined the way Illinois schools spend money, comparing their practices with an “evidence-based” model of cost-effective schooling developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by noted researcher Allan R. Odden, professor of educational leadership and policy analysis.

Michelle Turner Mangan, one of the lead researchers at National-Louis, says a growing body of educational research has clearly identified some key parameters on how schools should be staffed and run, including measures such as capping enrollment in tutoring sessions led by certified teachers at five students. She also notes that professional development for teachers works best when instructional coaches work full-time at just one school—helping to develop trust and camaraderie among staff.

With these principles in mind, the National-Louis researchers plan to price out what it would cost schools to ensure every child meets state standards. Funding levels will vary, Mangan notes, based on the concentration of low-income and other needy students in schools.

The report should have some leverage with the state’s funding advisory board. Two of the members on the National-Louis advisory task force—labor leaders Ken Swanson, head of the Illinois Education Association, and Ed Geppert, head of the Illinois Federation of Teachers—were also appointed by the governor to the state’s five-member funding advisory board.

Mangan says it’s too early to say if Illinois per-pupil spending falls short of what the University of Wisconsin model calls for. But many signs point to yes. She notes that a similar study in Wisconsin found that spending was about $500 per pupil too low.

Wisconsin, according to the latest federal figures, spent $11,040 per student in 2007—nearly $2,000 more than Illinois.