Local schools are feeling the squeeze of funding shortfalls as a new study reveals Illinois’ recent education-funding decrease is among the worst in the nation.
The study, conducted and published by the D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – a left-leaning think tank – finds Illinois has decreased its state spending on K-12 education by 9.3 percent since 2007, a number that places the Prairie State in the bottom portion of the nation.
Dr. Andrew Wise is the superintendent at Olympia High School, CUSD 16. He says Illinois’ economy plays a major role in the squeeze.
“We have a state economy that is not thriving and that makes life difficult for everyone,” Wise said. “Public education has been hit hard. Our budgets have decreased tremendously. It makes it extremely difficult because we’re making cuts every year and trying to be good stewards of the money we do have and I’m going forward and asking our board to approve a budget that’s a million dollars upside down every year.”
The 9.3 percent drop in spending comes out to $222 per student in Illinois since the 2007-2008 fiscal budget year.
Combined nationally, America’s education spending dropped 3.2 percent over the past seven years.
Wise said schools are running out of options and that means even harder decisions await administrators.
“The state has cut our funding tremendously — almost $2 million in the past two years,” Wise said. “If you’re already running a lean organization and being good stewards of those dollars, then eventually there’s not any fat left to trim.”
Wise says it’s not just that the state isn’t fulfilling its funding promises, but it also continues to decrease what it promises in the first place.
“We’ve cut our excess expenses, so now the only cuts that can be made are to certified positions,” he said. “That’s where most of the money is in any organization: people.”
The study takes into account the way each state funds the majority of its education spending. In Illinois, local governments contribute 57 cents of every dollar spent on K-12 education – 12 cents above the 45 cents per dollar national average.
The rest of the funding comes from the 35 cents per dollar provided by the state and the eight cents from the federal government.
The study also found there are about 260,000 fewer education jobs in the U.S. than in August 2008.
Lindsay Burke is an education policy fellow at The Heritage Foundation — a right-leaning think-tank based in Washington, D.C. She said many states have had to prioritize entitlement spending over education spending in recent years and that is a main cause of the decrease in states like Illinois.
“So many states, and Illinois is especially relevant here, have major debt problems and unfunded pension liabilities they have to deal with in their budgets,” Burke said. “Unfortunately, there is only so much money and the political backlash for cutting pensions is more harsh than for cutting education dollars, so that’s where the priorities end up.”
Burke says education funding will continue to take hits for as long as states struggle with entitlement shortfalls.
“Illinois education funding is in for a bumpy ride,” she said. “The unfunded pensions in the state are what demands lawmakers’ attention and with the debt and other fiscal and economic issues, money for education isn’t there like it should be.”
Oklahoma was the state with the biggest decrease in the nation in public education funding — down 23.6 percent over the same time period. North Dakota has upped its education spending by 31.6 percent, the biggest increase in the nation.
Fifteen other states, including Missouri, joined North Dakota with increased spending percentages.
Illinois’ 9.3 percent decrease places it in the bottom 20 nationally.
Brady Cremeens is a reporter for the Illinois News Network.