On School Tax & Spending

Matt Miller

In 2011, Chicago’s public schools spent $7,946 per pupil for instructional (that is, classroom) purposes; the New Trier school district, a short ride up the road, spent $12,043, or 51 percent more. In a class of 25 kids, that’s a difference of more than $102,000. This explains why starting and maximum salaries for teachers in New Trier are much higher than in Chicago; and why the average teacher salary in New Trier is $103,000 compared with Chicago’s $71,000. (These figures are from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in Chicago, which tracks fiscal- equity trends.)
The point? When suburban schools pay better, have much nicer facilities and working conditions, and are filled with kids who are easier to teach (because they don’t have the many problems that come with poverty), it is no surprise that, over time, the best teachers gravitate to the best suburban schools. We are relying on the “missionary plan” to staff schools in poor neighborhoods.
The local property-tax basis of much school finance means wealthier communities can tax themselves at lower rates and still generate far more spending per pupil. New Trier has 7.5 times the property wealth per pupil that Chicago has, taxes its residents’ property at roughly half Chicago’s rate, and generates vastly more dollars per pupil.

Mr. Miller compares Chicago’s “instructional” spending, which is only a portion of spending. Chicago plans to spend $5,162,000,000 during the 2012-2013 school year for 404,151 students or $12,772/student. Madison will spend $15,132 per student during the same school year.