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Per-student costs grow as enrolment declines in latest Illinois Report Card

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(The Center Square) – A new report shows Illinois is spending more per student while enrollment numbers continue to decline.

This year’s Illinois Report Card by the Illinois State Board of Education showed progress in student recovery from the pandemic during the 2022-23 school year, but continued struggles with proficiency rates and high numbers of chronic absenteeism. Schools across the state showed “strong progress in students’ recovery from the pandemic, with increased proficiency rates and the highest graduation rate in 13 years,” the report said. But proficiency levels for both English language arts and math remained below pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re moving fast toward recovery, although we still have quite a distance to travel,” said State School Superintendent Tony Sanders.

Chronic absenteeism remained “alarmingly high” and now sits at 28.3%. The number for Black students is considerably higher at 42%. Chronic absenteeism is defined as a student who missed 10% or more of the school year, around 17 or more days, due to excused or unexcused absences.

Over 1.8 million students were enrolled in Illinois public schools in 2022-23, a loss of more than 11,500 students compared to the previous school year. Illinois public schools saw an increase of Latino and Asian-American students enrolling last school year, but white and Black student enrollment decreased.

Jude Schwalbach, education policy analyst with the Reason Foundation, said if Illinois would adopt more lenient open enrollment and transfer policies like in other states, school districts could attract and retain more students.

“Some actually use open enrollment to keep the lights on,” said Schwalbach. “It’s not making them a lot of money, but it is assuring they can stay where they are at so that they are fiscally solvent,” he said.

Nathan Cunneen with the American Federation for Children has been a strong advocate for school choice. He noted that the state of Illinois is spending more per student than the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program has.

“The state of Illinois spends $18,000 per year, per child, and Chicago Public Schools spend way north of that at nearly $30,000 per kid, when this scholarship is serving predominantly low-income families at a much lower rate,” said Cunneen.

The Invest in Kids school choice scholarship program is set to expire at the end of the year if legislators do not extend the sunset.

A recent report in Wirepoints highlighted the fact that the Chicago Public School District is asking for over $14 billion to address emergency building repairs and renovations to all 522 public school buildings, yet over one-third of the city’s traditional schools are at less than 50% capacity.

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