The state of the State
State school spending:
State school spending:
State government and state politicians are under fire for providing too little money for elementary and secondary education. It is a near-universal truth around Springfield that the state has shirked its responsibility to school children. The doctrine holds that state underfunding has boosted property taxes and sparked inequities.
The doctrine is simple, straightforward and wrong. Over the last 20 years state spending on public schools has increased fivefold, from $787 million to $3.5 billion per year. In 1982 dollars, to pick a year, state spending has risen 21 percent, from $2.1 billion to $2.5 billion.
A stronger case could likely be made for the corollary: Schools have suffered under Gov. James R. Thompson. Since Thompson's first budget in fiscal year 1978, total state spending on public schools has increased 71 percent but when adjusted for inflation has declined 15 percent.
Closer scrutiny reveals a flaw in the
10/January 199 I/Illinois Issues
Thompson corollary. While state support of public schools has fallen in total inflation-adjusted dollars, the number of pupils in the public schools has fallen even faster. Illinois' public school enrollment has declined each year since 1971-1972. Between the 1968-1969 and the 1989-1990 school years, public school enrollment dropped 484,000 (21 percent).
On a per pupil basis, state spending has increased in 10 of the 13 years under Thompson. At the height of the recession, in school years 1981-1982 and 1982-1983 it dropped. Per pupil spending also declined in the 1987-1988 school year when lawmakers rejected a tax increase and Gov. Thompson cut education spending.
Increases in state funding combined with declining enrollments to keep state per pupil spending ahead of inflation. In constant (1982) dollars, state per pupil spending was $1,370 in Thompson's first budget (school year 1977-1978) and $1,412 in school year 1989-1990.
On an inflation-adjusted basis there have been peaks and valleys in state per pupil spending, but an overall trend is discernible. Per pupil spending increased from the 1969-1970 school year — a period when the state was spending the new money generated by the income tax — until its peak in school year 1975-1976. Thereafter it declined for seven consecutive years through the 1982-1983 school year.
Spending turned upward for the 1983-1984 school year and continued upward each year, except for the school-year 1987-1988 loss. The biggest jump came in the 1989-1990 school year, as a result of 1989's temporary income tax increase.
One measure of education's standing is comparison with total state spending. Between the 1969-1970 and the 1989-1990 school years (between fiscal year 1970 and fiscal year 1990) state general funds spending increased 43 percent in 1982 dollars. Per pupil education spending increased 57 percent.
Between Thompson's first budget in school year 1977-1978 and his 13th for 1989-1990 general funds spending increased 6 percent in constant dollars. Per pupil spending on elementary and secondary education increased 3 percent.
Public schools saw bigger increases in the seven years before Thompson than in the 13 years after. Under Thompson, education spending has increased slightly more slowly than overall general funds spending. It would take another $45 per pupil ($80 million overall) to bring increases in state per pupil spending to the average total state spending increase.
Education, however, has done better than many human service agencies. A June study by the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits in Illinois had declined more than half, when adjusted for inflation, since 1970. The big growth in state spending has come for prisons and on economic development programs, reflecting citizens' demand for action in those areas.
To say simply that schools have done relatively well is as simplistic, and as wrong, as saying they have been underfunded. While spending on education has changed over 20 years, so have the students who need to be educated. Consider these figures from the National Commission on Children:
• In 1970, 15.1 percent of children lived in poverty; in 1987, 20.6 percent of children lived in poverty.
• In 1970, 11.9 percent of children lived in single-parent families; in 1988, 24.3 percent of children lived in single-parent families.
• In 1975, 47 percent of mothers with children under 18 worked; in 1988, 65 percent of such mothers worked.
Those factors increase the demands on schools. Poor children are harder to educate than nonpoor, and there are increasing numbers of poor children. The same is true for children from single-parent families and from families where mothers must work to make ends meet.
At the same time, state and federal lawmakers have thrown a host of new programs at the schools. Mandates for educating the handicapped, educating at-risk preschoolers and keeping dropouts in school have proliferated. All cost money.
The simple and straightforward truth is the state per pupil school spending has kept pace with inflation. Less simple is a measure of the new demands and mandates placed upon schools. Universal truths about education needs are harder to come by.
January 1991/Illinois Issues/I 1