The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Could U-46 reaction to data hike taxes further?
The final of four stories in a series reflecting on District U-46 ISBE report card data.
By Seth Hancock
How much could taxpayers be hit by School District U-46’s response to the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) report card data presented to the Board of Education in October?
No plans have been proposed as a direct result of this year’s report card, which showed declining academic scores that lag behind the state, but U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the district should be spending $800 million annually instead of the planned $558.1 million expected to be spent in the current budget.
According to the ISBE, U-46 is at 55 percent of financial capacity to meet expectations as a Tier I district with final resources of $296.6 million while the adequacy target is $540.1 million based on the new so-called “evidence-based” funding formula by the state.
“Our budget is more than that, more than $540 million,” said board member Jeanette Ward. “So does that mean we’re not spending the money where the state thinks we should, and does that mean we need to realign resources?”
Sanders responded: “The answer to that would be no. I’m planning out the evidence-based funding model, the elements to what goes into the evidence-based funding models, to kind of have an idea about how they total that all up.”
Sanders said the final resources from the report card do not include transportation or federal funds and in response to questions from board members Sue Kerr and Veronica Noland, he said that number represents state and local resources.
Ward asked “about what would our total budget be?” to which Sanders answered: “Probably upwards of $800 million.”
“I think that what the state is suggesting [that] this model is saying that we should be staffing ourselves differently at a higher ratio based on our student population,” Sanders added.
Ward said that would mean increasing spending “in the neighborhood” of near 50 percent, and Sanders said “yes, sure.”
Kerr asked if the additional funding is supposed to be covered by the state to which Sanders said: “Correct, that’s why we’re a Tier I school district so that more funds will flow to us from the state to provide these types of resources.”
In response to the $800 million, Ward said: “I mean that’s pretty shocking.”
Later clarifying to The Examiner, Ward said: “Well, it’s shockingly high. It’s significantly more than what we’re spending and when we’ve increased spending before, and the data shows this, scores haven’t gone up, they’ve gone down. So how is increasing spending going to help scores?”
“If money were the answer, then why are home school students the highest scoring in the nation when it comes to standardized testing,” Ward added. “Money is not the answer to everything, and it hasn’t indicated that it’s helped U-46.”
According to a recent study released by the Home School Defense Association, homeschooled students cost only 5 percent of what it costs government school students yet score 37 points higher on standardized tests regardless of subgroup status, such as race or socio-economics.
Furthermore, the data supports Ward’s contention that increased spending hasn’t helped academic achievement in U-46, or nationally, but doe the district’s administration or board majority recognize that? Ward said she believes “they notice it because they try to explain it away.”
“So they try to explain that ‘well, if we just had more guidance counselors or we had more teachers or the teacher to student ratio were different, then things would be different,’” Ward said. “But the data doesn’t indicate that. They’ve gotten more money in the past, and it hasn’t improved scores.”
Nationally, the Department of Education’s “Digest of Education Statistics” showed that government school spending has increased over 180 percent and the number of teacher’s employed by nearly 100 percent since 1970, but enrollment and test scores have been flat.
In U-46, the current budget was opposed by Ward and board member Phil Costello who both cited concerning trends like continued declines in enrollment yet increasing spending significantly and adding 54 new positions. The budget hiked spending by $40.2 million and revenues by $52 million.
If the district’s enrollment and spending projections come true, student population will drop 13.1 percent from 2012 to the 2021-22 school year but spending will increase by 36.3 percent.
The ISBE’s numbers showed enrollment declines three straight years now in U-46, and the district’s November presentation showed 38,572 students in 2018, a 1.6 percent drop from 39,205 in 2017. Jeff King, deputy superintendent of operations, said during that presentation that the vast majority of classrooms, 89 percent, already have a lower student-teacher ratio than their standards.
The report card showed that U-46 spends $11,946 operationally and $6,717 instructionally per student. Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, said instructional spending is solely teacher salaries and benefits and operational is everything else.
From 2013 to 2017, the combined operational and instructional spending per student in U-46 has increased $2,579 which is $1,702 a student over the rate of inflation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.
If the state is expected to make up the $245.3 million between the adequacy target and U-46’s final resources from the report card, how much higher will taxes go in Illinois and can the state afford it?
Sanders lobbied for the “evidence-based” funding formula and also lobbied for the corresponding 32 percent hike in the state’s personal income tax rate and 33.3 percent hike in the corporate tax rate. The district’s budget saw nearly $54 million more this year from that funding formula.
Illinois is $160.4 billion in debt according to usdebtclock.org and was ranked 50th on the George Mason University’s Mercatus Center’s annual rankings of states on fiscal health, down from 49th last year and 47th the year before.
The state continues to see population declines according to Internal Revenue Service data, and figures from the Tax Foundation show Illinois is in the top five of states for highest tax burden.
According to the ISBE, the bottom category of schools under its new rankings, underperforming and lowest performing, “will receive” more taxpayer dollars from the state. U-46 did not have any schools ranked in the top (exemplary) or bottom (lowest performing) categories while 45 were ranked commendable and eight underperforming.