(The Center Square) – A new study shows inflation-adjusted per-pupil K-12 school revenues in Illinois grew by 55% between 2002 and 2020 while enrollment numbers decreased. The rise in overall costs despite the enrollment declines were driven by teacher benefit increases.
Using the most recent Census Bureau data, the Reason Foundation analysis finds that U.S. inflation-adjusted K-12 per-pupil revenue grew by 25% – or $3,211 per student – between 2002 and 2020, before pandemic-related federal funding flooded school and state balance sheets.
The Illinois inflation-adjusted per-pupil revenue increased from $13,053 in 2002 to $20,197 in 2020 – or $7,144 per student – during this time period, while enrollment declined by 6%.
Co-author Aaron Smith said instructional benefits take up the largest piece of the spending pie.
“In two states, one of which is Illinois, saw per-pupil spending on benefits increase by 200% or more, and we know from related data that while benefit spending is increasing, teacher salaries across the U.S. in inflation-adjusted terms are pretty flat,” Smith said.
Inflation-adjusted spending on benefits in Illinois, which include pensions and health-care costs, grew from $4.1 billion in 2002 to $11.6 billion in 2020. Spending on salaries increased from $15 billion to $16.2 billion during this time.
Nationwide, spending on benefits nearly doubled from $90 billion to $164 billion a year. Overall inflation-adjusted spending on salaries grew at a slower pace, from $342 billion to $372 billion during the same time period.
According to Illinois Policy, since 2008, spending on educator pensions in Illinois has grown by 458%, while general education spending is up only 17% in that time, adjusted for inflation.
The report notes that in 2020, total education system long-term debt surpassed $500 billion in the U.S. Between 2002 and 2020, long-term debt grew by $188 billion or $3,798 per student.
“States have made promises that they have failed to fund, and those promises are starting to catch up with them, so that is where we see the huge increase in benefits spending,” Smith said.