I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Inequity In Illinois School Funding: A Follow Up

I want to add something to yesterday's post about school funding inequity in Chicago, and how the blame is being unjustly placed on the city's teachers and their union:

As I said, it's tricky to compare school spending across districts in any context. But Illinois is especially difficult because many of the state's districts are regional high schools: in other words, rather than comprehensive K-12 districts, many schools are organized into K-8 districts and separate high school districts.

For better or for worse, high schools tend to spend more per pupil than elementary schools. Which means comparing the spending at a K-12 district with that of a K-8 or 9-12 district can lead to a false comparison.

We can use regression-based adjustments to account for this disparity, but we really have to approach the differences between districts with some caution. That said, I think it's instructive to look at these adjusted differences in Cook County, IL (as we did yesterday) to see just how screwed Chicago's schools are.

Data is from the US Census Bureau's F33 school finance files, and the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE). I've marked the districts with greater than 80 percent high school enrollment in dark blue. The spending figures have been adjusted to account for differences in high school enrollments.

A couple of things jump out right away. There is a clear downward slope in the relationship between spending and student poverty; in other words, in Cook County, as poverty goes up, spending is more likely to come down. This is exactly the opposite of what research on school funding suggests we should do.

Also notice that no high school district in Cook County has as high a student poverty level as Chicago. Yes, Chicago is a K-12 district, but keep in mind, as a pointed out yesterday, it is also a district where the overall average family income is significantly higher than the average income for only those students enrolled in the public schools. Which almost certainly means the city's private schools enroll many more-affluent families, concentrating poverty even more within the public schools.

One last point: Chicago may be getting screwed on school funding, but it isn't alone. Plenty of high-poverty schools in Cook County are getting far less funding than low-poverty schools. Again, I don't blame Evanston for spending substantial amounts on its schools. But it's foolish to think Chicago and other high-poverty districts can achieve comparable results with a high-needs student population and fewer resources than more affluent schools.

Blaming Chicago's teachers for this state of affairs is simply stupid. Illinois is not adequately funding its neediest schools. Forcing Chicago's teachers to take a big cut in take-home pay is not going to change the fundamental inequity baked into the Illinois school funding system.

Are the city's or the state's leaders willing to address this?

"What'd he say?"
"I wasn't listening..."

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