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Dissecting District U-46 cost per student data
By Seth Hancock
How much does School District U-46 spend per student and how does it compare with the nation?
According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) most recent report card, U-46 spent $11,946 per student on operational spending and $6,717 per student in instructional spending in 2017.
Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, explained the difference between instructional and operational spending in October when the report card was presented to the Board of Education.
Johnson said: “Instructional is looking at teacher salary and benefits. That is the cost that we look at…. Operational would be all other costs when we look at School District U-46. So that would include our buildings, our operational components, maintenance, resources, transportation, utilities, food for students. All other costs would comprise that operational piece.”
Recently in an article titled “Declining enrollment, an ongoing U-46 trend,” The Examiner reported that combined the district spends $18,662 per student.
However, the state’s definition of operational spending “includes all costs for overall operations in this school’s district, including Instructional Spending.”
Mary Fergus, U-46’s director of school and community relations, clarified: “We would point out that our Financial Services Department submits data as part of the Illinois State Board of Education’s Annual Financial Report Form that is calculated to report the ‘Instructional Spending per pupil,’ and the ‘Operational Spending per pupil.’”
“When we cite the amount of money spent on each student’s education per year, we typically refer to the state’s Operational Spending per Pupil which is really a measure of regular K-12 programs including operations/support departments,” Fergus added.
While the district sends the data to the ISBE which then posts the per pupil spending, the ISBE does not detail how the figures are calculated and U-46’s report card data could call to question the accuracy of the state’s data while looking at 2017 numbers compared to 2016.
The $11,946 in operational spending per student in 2017 is a slight decrease, according to the state, from $12,095 in 2016, this despite total spending increasing from $499 million in 2016 to $517.9 million in 2017 according to U-46’s budget data while enrollment also declined from 39,711 in 2016 to 39,205 in 2017, a loss of 506 students.
According to the ISBE’s data, per student operational spending has increased from $10,194 in 2013 to $11,946 in 2017 which is $1,196 over the rate of inflation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) inflation calculator.
Current enrollment in the district is 38,572 students according to U-46’s numbers and it’s current budget sets spending at $558.1 million which would mean the district would spend $14,469 per student this school year.
In November, the administration presented the 2018 enrollment data to the board which showed a total loss of 633 students from 39,205 students in 2017. It was the fourth straight year with a decline, and the largest single-year drop during that span, and U-46 has now lost 1,915 total students since 40,487 in 2014.
According to the ISBE data, during that time frame spending has increased nearly $100 million from $460 million in 2014 to this year’s budget, over $70 million faster than the rate of inflation according to the BLS inflation calculator. Academic results have also lagged behind the state and seen drops during that time according to the report card.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent survey of school system finances from 2016 showed that U-46 spends over the national average of $11,762 per student.
Utah is the lowest spending state according to that survey at $6,953 per student yet their students have scored above the national average in both reading and math scores according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ most recent report. Illinois students scored at or below the national average in all categories.