Numbers show wide disparity in classroom spending in Illinois public schools

By Kevin Beese Staff Reporter

A Stock Early Childhood Center student paints a rock as part of the Stock Rocks with My Special Someone 2019 event held at the Chicago school. The Chicago Public Schools center in the city’s Edison Park neighborhood has the highest spending per pupil in the state at $40,822 per student. (Stock Center photo)

Nestled in Chicago’s Edison Park neighborhood is a yellow brick building that is at the forefront of education for students, including pupils with special needs.

Nearly half of the student body at Stock Early Childhood Center is classified as having a disability, but efforts are made for inclusion wherever possible. Staffing is at a remarkable five students per staff member ratio “so all students receive the appropriate amount of support as they learn and develop,” the school’s information packet for prospective families notes.

Stock was the first school in Illinois to implement the blended model of instruction, and was also the first to hold two Early Childhood Awards of Excellence, one for inclusion of students with special needs and another for teaching and learning. Stock also holds the status of Exemplary Supportive School, the highest designation given to schools for social and emotional learning supports.

Teachers at Stock communicate with parents on a daily basis, providing emails and text messages to share pictures of students at work or participating in classroom events. The school has an open-door policy, inviting parents to visit whenever they would like.

The staff at the 220-student school, which is 72 percent white and less than 1 percent black, utilizes core vocabulary, sign language, picture exchange and dynamic communication devices to help students interact with their peers, teachers and learning environment.

However, all this support does not come cheaply.

The Chicago Public School spends $40,822 per child at Stock, which is tops in the state for public money spent per pupil.

Contrast that with another Chicago public school, the Asian Human Services — Passages Charter, which spends just $3,475 per student — sixth lowest for all schools in the state of Illinois.

Passages puts its focus on the needs of immigrant and refugee students. Despite its lower funding per student, the school earned a “commendable” rank for the 2018-19 school year, the Illinois State Board of Education second-highest designation.

Passages’ 422-member student body is just 7 percent white. It is 46 percent black and 17 percent Asian.

More than $37,000 per student separates the spending levels at the two Chicago public schools. No other school district in the state has such a disparity between its highest-spending school per student and its lowest spending school per student.

Such comparisons are possible as of this year because for the first time, the State School Report cards now includes a breakdown of how much money each school spends per pupil. Previously, that breakdown never past the school district level.

Sara Shaw, the Illinois State Board of Education’s senior manager for fiscal and academic solvency, said having dollars spent broken down to the school level should be a source of discussion for districts and taxpayers. She hoped that the first year of the data would be a springboard for inquiries and deeper conservation rather than people drawing conclusions about a school or district.

“The financial data alone rarely tells the whole story,” Shaw warned when talking about the addition to the annual Report Card.

She said the spending per pupil figure includes schools’ portion of centralized services like transportation and food service. Shaw noted that the new financial snapshot includes donations to a school from parent groups or grants a school may have received.

“It’s important to remember that differences in spending between schools can arise from many factors, including positive ones,” Shaw said. “For example, a commitment to equity may result in tailoring resources to schools based on students’ needs at those schools.”

The ISBE overseer of money’s impact on classroom performance said the school by school comparisons may drive districts to provide more money to special student populations, curriculum, program and school-improvement decisions, school size variances, strategic plan investments and teachers’ salary schedule

“We are encouraged to see some districts already starting initial conversations within their district, with their boards, and with their communities around how to understand these data for themselves and make them meaningful in resource allocation,” Shaw said.

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