Ill. school districts doing more with less money

New Trier prepares for CPS student boycott
NORTHFIELD, Ill. State Senator James Meeks wants CPS students to boycott the first day of class. He says they should enroll at schools in wealthier New Trier Township.

The suburban officials are expecting about 2,000 Chicago students and parents to turn out Tuesday to register. They say the students will be directed to New Trier's ninth grade campus in Northfield.

Meeks and other supporters of the boycott say there are inequities in school funding.

Illinois schools get their money from property taxes. And Meeks contends that means richer communities can afford better schools.

But does it always work that way?

The boycott calls for Chicago students to go to New Trier High School where they spend about $17,000 per student. Districts generally do spend more on high school students, so ABC7 looked at other school districts around the state that include kindergarten through twelfth grade.

There are nearly 400 of those districts and there are great differences in how much is spent.

Three days into the new school year and students at Oswego East High School were getting into the groove. The teens have a lot on their minds. But it's doubtful many are thinking about how much is spent on their public education.

According to state data, Oswego Community Unit School District 308 spends $8,020 per student - below the state's average of what other school districts spend - but they have a 95 percent graduation rate.

"You're always weighing what you can provide with what resources you've been given," said Dr. Marsha Hollis Golden, Oswego CUSD 308.

Chicago Public Schools is the largest district in the state, spending $11,032 with a graduation rate of 66 percent.

ABC7 looked at other districts that spend less than Chicago like:

  • Galena - more than $10,000 per student and graduating 90 percent.
  • Rockford - more than $9,300, graduating 75 percent.
  • Downstate Effingham spends more than 7,700, graduating 85 percent.
  • And Carterville District 5 is among those spending the least - more than $5,800 per student, but graduating more than 96 percent.

Illinois school districts get most of their funding from local property taxes. It's a complicated formula based on assessed property value. It boils down to wealthier communities asked to give more and less wealthy communities not giving as much.

"We have great disparities across the state in terms of the amount of money used for this formula. That's been the source of controversy recently," said Dr. Chris Koch, State Superintendent of Education.

Chicago Public Schools' CEO has consistently argued Chicago students need more resources to overcome problems like an 85 percent poverty rate. He says Chicago taxpayers are tapped out, and the state needs to find another way to level the playing field.

"Whether it's English as a second language, we have schools where 40 languages are spoken, 15 percent special needs. We have tremendous need. Nine thousand students come from homeless families," said CPS CEO Arne Duncan.

In contrast, Oswego's poverty rate is only 12 percent.

"We are a large, growing district but still have a small-town feel, and we really can focus on meeting the individual needs of our students to a greater extent than you can in larger urban school districts," Golden said.

Oswego's assistant superintendent says more valuable than the money are their corporate and community partnerships. She says they motivate students to look at their futures and ultimately to enrich education without spending a dime.

Koch said while money does make a difference in a child's education. He's said he's seen school districts make great strides without more money. But the state is being forced to reevaluate the system of funding education from community pressure and a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Urban League that alleges the state's funding violates students' civil rights.

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