Press Release: New Study Shows Most Illinois Public Schools Not Making the Grade, Lack Resources September 14, 2017

Focus on Better Performance, Adequate Funding, and More Effective Spending

Contact:  Jose Cerda III, 312-629-0060 

CHICAGO, IL — A study by nonprofit IFF — Raising Quality, Promoting Equity: An Analysis of Location, Performance, and Investment in Illinois Public Schools found that, during the 2013-2014 school year, only 12 percent of Illinois’ K-12 students had access to a public school in which all or nearly all students were prepared to read, write, and do math at grade levela threshold consistent with the Illinois State Board of Education’s goal of achieving 90 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2032. That leaves an estimated 1.6 million of the state’s K-12 students without access to a high-performing public school.

Raising Quality, Promoting Equity maps the substantial need for high-performing public schools across the state and provides essential data on both the adequacy and equity of school funding levels, as well as on the effectiveness of district spending on student achievement. Its findings strongly reinforce the state’s recent adoption of an evidence-based funding formula to ensure that all schools have sufficient funds to provide a quality education and recommend a more holistic approach to school improvement.

“The real power of this report is in the community-level data and framework for action – this information can help education stakeholders be more strategic,” said IFF CEO Joe Neri.  “School improvement should not be simply about more accountability or more funding. It should be about providing schools with adequate funds, based on their documented needs, and then holding schools and school districts accountable for results over timeboth in terms of their academic performance and in how effective their spending is in delivering that performance.”

Other findings from the study’s needs assessment include:

  • Better performing schools are needed throughout the state – in urban, suburban, town, and rural areas alike.
    • In 95 percent of the 234 areas studied, most students did not have access to a high-performing public school.
    • In about half of the areas studied, students effectively did not have access to a single high-performing public school.
    • Only two study areas, both in Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, had enough seats in high-performing public schools to serve all students living there.
  • The state’s public education system fails to fulfill a basic function of public education: equalizing opportunity. In Illinois, test scores gauge family wealth almost as well as they measure reading and math ability. In the state’s wealthiest communities, a low-performing school is a rare exception; in its poorest communities, it is the norm.
  • Some of the highest need communities included: Sangamon County, including Springfield (#1); various neighborhoods on the west, southwest, and northwest sides of Chicago (#2, #3, #6, #13); Champaign (#4); Elgin/South Elgin (#5, #15); Bloomington (#7); Carpentersville (#8); Rock Island (#9); Cicero (#10); Rockford (#11); Kankakee (#12); and LaSalle (#14).

Additionally, the study analyzed the adequacy and equity of school funding throughout the state and calculated each school district’s return on investment (ROI) to determine how effective a district’s expenditures were in delivering math and reading proficiency, two of the foundational elements of a quality education. Here, the study found:

  • Fifty seven percent of public school students were enrolled in school districts that were underfunded or borderline underfunded, after adjusting for local costs and student needs.
  • With the major exceptions of Chicago, some of its suburbs, and Kankakeewhich include a large number of the state’s studentsunderfunded school districts tended to be located in the southern half of the state (Springfield and below).
  • Whereas an underfunded school district was an exception in higher-income areas of the state, it was the norm for families in Illinois’ low-income communities.
  • Although funding alone does not tell the whole story of school performance, there is a link between adequate funding and academic performance. Four out of five high-performing schools were in adequately funded school districts. Almost no school district achieved high levels of academic performance in the absence of adequate funding.
  • Not every school district that was underperforming made poor use of its resources. In fact, 147 underperforming districts had high ROI, more cost-effectively achieving math and reading proficiency than some better-performing districts.
  • On average, districts with high ROI spent less on overhead and more on instruction than districts with lower ROI.

Accompanying the report is an online tool that allows education stakeholders to compare the academic performance of schools and school districts; the funding adequacy and ROI of school districts; and the need for high-performing schools across the state. All maps and data can be found at, and an initial discussion on the report’s findings is scheduled for September 18th at the Union League Club of Chicago. For more information, please call IFF at 312-629-0060.

Raising Quality, Promoting Equity was guided by an advisory committee that included representatives from the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Education, Advance Illinois, the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, New Schools for Chicago, Stand for Children, Thornton Fractional High School District 215, and Williamsfield Community Unit School District 210. It is one of a dozen place-based needs assessments that IFF has done nationally over the past 15 years and was conducted with financial support from the Joyce Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.


About IFF: IFF is a mission-driven lender, real estate consultant, and developer that helps communities thrive by creating opportunities for low-income populations and individuals with disabilities. From child care to senior housing, IFF works closely with clients from every sector, offering affordable, flexible financing; full-scale real estate consulting; and community development services. Since 1988, we have made more than $700 million in loans, leveraged $2.3 billion in community investments, and renovated or constructed more than 3.1 million square feet of nonprofit and affordable housing spaces.

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