Springfield Business Journal Articles


The Cost of Public Education

The debate has begun again over raising taxes for District 186.  So, just how much money does District 186 have, how is it spent, and how does that compare to other school districts in Illinois, the United States and the world?

The fiscal year 2014 amended budget (available on the District's website) shows total revenue of $189,789,087 and total expenses of $202,359,381.  The District has approximately 15,000 students, so cost per student is approximately $13,500.

The District's revenues come primarily from three sources, property taxes, state funds and federal funds.  Under the 2014 budget, approximately 50% of revenue came from property taxes, 27% from state funds, 13% from federal funds, 6% from other taxes, such as corporate replacement tax, and 4% from other sources.

On average, Illinois has the sixth highest property tax rate in the country at 1.73% of the value of a property annually.  The highest state is New Jersey at 1.89%.  The lowest is Louisiana at .18%.  According to my 2012 tax bill, the rate for District 186 is 1.52%.

How do we compare to other states in other categories?  Exact figures can be hard to find, but ballotpedia.org reports that the average teacher salary in District 186 is $56,208 and the average administrator salary is $99,563, with the state averages being $61,402 and $106,217, respectively.  However, the Washington Post puts the average Illinois teacher salary at $59,113, and teacherportal.com puts the average Illinois teacher salary at $64,509.  The Washington Post also reports that national averages range from $39,580 in South Dakota to $75,279 in New York, with Illinois being the 13th highest state.

Does more spending per student equate to better education?  Not directly according to the latest Education Week rankings.  According to the report, Alaska spends $17,554 per student, the 2nd highest in the country, but has the 6th worst schools.  Virginia spends $9,573 per student, the 14th lowest in the country, and Colorado spends $9,160 per student, the 9th lowest in the country, but they are tied for the 10th best schools.  Massachusetts has the best schools and spends $13,127 per student, the 15th highest in the country.

How do we compare to other countries?  According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the "OECD"), the United States spends more per student each year than any other developed country.  In 2010 the U.S. average was $15,171.  The average for all of the other nations in the report was $9,313.  According to the same report, U.S. teachers also receive above average pay.  The average U.S. first-year high school teacher earns roughly $38,000 compared to the international average of $31,000, and the average U.S. high school teacher salary is $53,000 compared to the international average of $45,500.  Yet the report ranked the United States as only 17th on the list of best countries for education.  (Russia ranked 20th.)

The ratio of students to teachers in District 186 is approximately 14.5.  Per the OECD, the international averages are approximately 21 for primary school and 23 for high school.  The U.S. averages are approximately 20 for primary school and 23 for high school.

So, what is the answer to improving education in Illinois?  More money?  Better allocated money?  Higher teacher salaries?  Smaller classes?  Focus in recent years has been on the last two categories, but new thinking is emerging, especially with respect to class size.

Director M. Night Shyamalan spent four years researching education in America resulting in his recently published book,  I Got Schooled: The Unlikely Story of How a Moonlighting Movie Maker Learned the Five Keys to Closing America’s Education Gap.  Shyamalan comes from a family of doctors, so he decided to research education scientifically by gathering and analyzing data.

According to Shyamalan, the primary issue is poverty and how we treat schools in impoverished areas.  "If America's scores [on the international PISA test] were limited to those from schools in districts in which the poverty rate was less than 10 percent – Finland's [ranked as the best in education] poverty rate is less than 4 percent – the United States would lead the world, and it wouldn't be close:  551 on the latest PISA test, compared to Finland's 536, or South Korea's 539.  In fact, if all you did was exclude the American schools that have student bodies that are more than three-quarters poor, U.S. schools would still score 513, just behind Australia, but ahead of the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Iceland . . . well, you get the picture."

After analyzing all of the data, he concludes that smaller class sizes are not the answer.  Instead, his five keys are good teachers, active principals, small schools, giving students feedback and "elbowing out" the day with longer school days and longer school years.  He says that "two-thirds of the education gap between white suburban students and minority students can be erased just by extending the amount of time spent in school each day."  According to the National Center on Time & Learning, the average length of the American school year is 180 days and the average length of the school day is 6.7 hours.  Compare that to the Chicago public school numbers of 170 days and 5.75 hours, and Mr. Shyamalan may be on to something.

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