Despite being ranked nearly last nationally in state education funding, rising poverty affecting one in four students, and substantial increases in unfunded mandates Illinois students continue to perform well.

Illinois Public Education Outperforms National Averages

Every two years the federal government administers a national standardized assessment, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), for the purpose of comparing state performance. Illinois students exceed the national average in both reading and mathematics according to the most recent NAEP results.

In addition, the performance of Illinois students has improved steadily on NAEP since 2007.


Large Inequities in Education Exist

An achievement gap remains at both the state and federal level.

Both the United States and Illinois face the challenge of closing the achievement gap among students from different backgrounds, including students with disabilities, students from low-income backgrounds, and English Language Learner (ELL) students. The proportion of Illinois students in each of these populations, as well as their achievement on NAEP, is comparable to the U.S. averages for the same grades and subjects.

Nonetheless, an achievement gap remains at both the state and federal level. It is this achievement gap that should be of primary concern.

Illinois Performs Well on College and Career Indicators

Students in Illinois receiving at least a core curriculum outperform their counterparts nationwide.

Beyond test scores, the 2012 Illinois graduation rate of 82 percent remains above the national average.5 Illinois is ranked 12th in the nation for its percentage of persons 25 years old and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Composite scores for Illinois students on the ACT college admissions test are comparable to national composite scores.

Across the United States, only 57 percent of eleventh grade students took the ACT, while in Illinois 100 percent of public school students took the test. Illinois students rank 2nd in achievement among the states that tested 100 percent of their public school student population (Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming).

ACT identifies a student as prepared to take the ACT if the student took four years of English and three years each of mathematics, social studies, and natural science, which they define as the core curriculum. Students in Illinois receiving at least a core curriculum outperform their counterparts nationwide.

A consistent, positive trend is observed in average Illinois students’ ACT scores starting with the graduating class of 2002, the first class to take the ACT universally in Illinois. Students requiring extended time accommodations are excluded from the analysis. At the same time, average national scores have remained relatively constant.

Achievement Gap Exacerbated by Illinois’ Funding System

Illinois cannot begin to address its achievement gap without first adequately funding education for all of Illinois’ children.

What Americans Think
(PDK/Gallup, 2014)
Americans consider lack of financial support as the biggest problem facing public schools in their community.

Current funding in Illinois public schools is inadequate and contributes to inequities in public education. Across the nation, Illinois is ranked 50th in state funding for education, with Illinois funding only 28 percent of public education costs compared to 43 percent across the nation. Every year the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) establishes minimum funding recommendations for the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to “provide the basic costs of educating a child who is not at risk for academic failure.” This minimum recommendation is routinely disregarded when appropriating funds, with the difference between appropriated and recommended funding levels increasing over time, as seen below.

* The appropriation after prorating was not officially calculated for 2014.

In early 2011, due to Illinois’ current financial condition, the legislature decided instead of allocating adequate funds to support the General State Aid formula, to only provide school districts with a portion of those funds, disproportionately affecting districts with the least local wealth and the largest percentage of students living in poverty. The analysis below is for FY2012, where 95 percent proration was observed; the discrepancy has only increased as General State Aid was prorated at 89 percent in FY2013 and FY2014.

Illinois cannot begin to address its achievement gap without first adequately funding education for all of Illinois’ children. The amount of state funding each district receives is important because it has the potential to create an environment of equal opportunity, where every student can have access to basic resources.

District characteristics are strongly correlated to student achievement. For instance, income status accounts for 66 percent of the variance in the percentage of students meeting Illinois standards in reading and math at the district-level. Illinois’ inadequate funding structure reinforces the disadvantages already found among children living in communities with low property values. Currently each Illinois district’s resources are closely associated with local wealth. This is different from other states across the nation where greater state funding dilutes discrepancies in funding between high and low property wealth districts. States to examine include Minnesota, North Carolina, Michigan, California, and Ohio.

Beyond the moral imperative and responsibility to close the achievement gap in Illinois, achievement gaps systemically impact the broader economy. A 2009 report issued by McKinsey and Company estimated the impact of the achievement gap on U.S. GDP to be 1.3 to 2.3 trillion dollars, similar to the effect of a national recession.

Despite inadequate funding, national benchmarking shows a consistent picture of competitive achievement across Illinois, with competitive performance on college and career readiness compared to the nation. Nonetheless, an unacceptable difference in educational outcomes between students based on their zip codes remains, which is further exacerbated by the state’s funding system.

Armed with this knowledge, and with a sense of moral imperative, Vision 20/20 aims to address the inequality inherent in our state’s education system while enhancing the educational experiences of all students.