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Report finds education funding overhaul effective, calls for increased state investment

As K-12 funding has grown, higher education funding has plummeted in Illinois, advocacy group finds

SPRINGFIELD – A new report from an independent policy and advocacy organization is calling for increased state investment in public education in Illinois, particularly in early childhood and higher education.

“Overall, our outcomes are improving despite insufficient state investment in programs and schools. We must build on the progress of K–12 funding reform and ensure our early childhood and postsecondary programs are fully and equitably funded so students and families have access to the resources they need to thrive,” Advance Illinois said in its 2019 “The State We’re In” report.

Advance Illinois was founded in 2008 by leaders from several civic, philanthropic, business and education organizations across the state. The group’s stated purpose is to work “toward a healthy public education system that prepares students to achieve success in college, career and civic life.”

Their annual report tracks roughly 80 metrics pertaining to student performance in three categories: early education, K–12 and postsecondary.

The report found that evidence-based funding formula, which was passed in 2017, has helped increase per-pupil state spending at the K-12 level. Illinois spent, on average, $7,503 per pupil in 2017, ranking it 29th in the nation. That’s up from $4,557 in 2007, when the state ranked 45th.

The evidence-based funding formula calls for an added $350 million in K-12 education spending annually and directs that money to the schools furthest from adequate funding.

This helped decrease the number of school districts funded at less than 60 percent of their adequacy targets from 168 in 2017 to roughly 34 in 2019, according to the report.

Still, nearly half of Illinois’ 852 school districts are working with “less than 70 percent of the funds they need to adequately meet their students’ needs,” the report said.

While K-12 education spending increased from 2007 to 2017, over that same span, per-pupil state spending at 4-year higher education institutions was decimated. In 2007, Illinois spent $7,276 per student at public 4-year institutions, but that number fell to $3,636 in 2017.

That was a steep enough fall to move the state from the 19th to 45th highest in the nation.

The decreased state investment came as higher education costs continued to rise. In the last 15 years, annual inflation-adjusted tuition at public 4-year universities has increased 62 percent from $8,641 to $13,970.10, the report said.

Because of this, a family earning the median household income of $62,992 would have to pay 27 percent of its income to send one child to a state university, provided they receive no state or federal aid. That number jumps to 50 percent of annual income for those living at the federal poverty line.

The decreased spending coincided with an overall enrollment decline in Illinois institutions of higher education, which dropped from roughly 896,000 in 2009 to 747,000 in 2017.

“When looking at the most recent five years, black student enrollment at Illinois institutions declined almost 26 percent,” the report said. “While Latinx enrollment grew 6 percent, Latinx students represent fewer than 18 percent of total enrollment.”

The overall high school graduation rate has grown in recent years, and the rate for black (75 percent) and Latinx (81 percent) populations also inched closer to that of white populations (91 percent), the report said.

Editor’s note: Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

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