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EDITORIAL: Chicago school spends $49K a student, no one’s proficient

Even unfathomable amounts of money don’t guarantee student achievement.

According to the logic of Nevada’s education establishment, Spry Community Links High School in Chicago should be the envy of the nation. Per-pupil spending on the campus reached more than $49,300 last year. That’s no typo.

Nevada increased its education spending by around 25 percent last legislative session. This school year, per-pupil funding is a bit under $12,900. It will increase to more than $13,300 next school year. Aside from paying the same people more to do the same thing, that money hasn’t yet accomplished much. But there’s a ready-made excuse. Nevada still doesn’t spend enough.

In 2019, the Legislature tasked the Nevada Commission on School Funding with identifying the optimal level of education funding. In 2021, it produced its report, which identified the optimal funding as at least $14,337 per student in 2020 dollars. After adjusting for Bidenflation, the amount today stands are a bit more than $17,000 per pupil.

If only Nevada taxpayers would further open up their wallets, education would finally improve, this fantastical line of thinking goes. Optimal funding, the commission asserted, would be “sufficient for strategic investment” that would result “in exemplary student performance.”

If this were true, Spry High School in Chicago must be thriving. After all, nearly $50,000 a student is almost three times greater than “optimal funding.”

But it’s not. Spry doesn’t have a single student proficient in reading. Not a single student is proficient in math. All that money can’t even get kids to show up. Spry’s chronic truancy rate is more than 87 percent. About the only thing this failure doesn’t affect is its four-year graduation rate, which is a laughable 76.2 percent.

All data is from the Illinois State Board of Education 2023 Report Card.

Spry isn’t alone either. Illinois has 32 schools with zero students proficient in reading. There are 67 schools in the state without a single student proficient in math. As you might guess, there’s much overlap between those two lists. Illinois has 30 schools without a single student proficient in reading or math. These schools are awash in funding, too. One of those schools is Bowen High School, which receives $31,700 per-pupil.

These aren’t isolated pockets of failure. Excluding the schools with zero proficiency, there are more than 330 other campuses with just one to 10 students proficient in reading. It’s worse in math. Another 500-plus schools have 10 or fewer students proficient.

If money fixed broken schools, Spry High School would be among the best in America. Instead it’s an expensive lesson on how money isn’t the answer to improving the nation’s struggling public education system.

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