By the Numbers

(page 6 of 8)

Medians: per student, $5,858; percentage on education, 49.6

The dollar figure shows how much the district spent per student on instruction, as opposed to money spent on school operations. The percentage represents the share of the district's overall budget that goes to education, not to transportation, construction, debt service, or other operations. Although related, the figures do not say the same thing.

Spending per pupil measures what a school district spends on its students. Because school funding comes largely from property taxes, schools in affluent communities stand to have more cash to spend. Perennial calls for a more egalitarian method of funding Illinois schools have as yet done nothing to break that tradition.

Percent spent on education is a measure of the district's spending needs. Generally, the idea is that a school district should be spending the lion's share on instruction, and as little as possible on debt and operations. But districts that have recently built or expanded their facilities may have a larger-than-normal share of their budget going to construction costs.

The range of school districts' spending-per-pupil figures, from $2,694 at Youth Connections Charter High School to $10,460 at Evanston Township High School, has a very strong correlation to the range of teacher salaries. Those paying high salaries tend to cluster at the top of the per-pupil spending list, and the same is true at the other end. That is because teacher salaries take a big share of any school's budget—and they count directly as classroom spending. This is why Chicago also charts the percentage spent on classroom education: The range there shows no such pattern. The 20 schools that spend the most per student are scattered throughout the range of percentages spent on education—indicating their various other expenses, such as for administrative salaries or construction.