(The Center Square) – Long-term education debt spending has been increasing in almost every state, and Illinois is near the top of the list.

The Reason Foundation released a K-12 Education Spending Spotlight showing a nationwide increase in per-pupil spending, among other findings.

According to the study, since 2002, Illinois has increased benefit spending by 174.7%. Only two states, Hawaii and Pennsylvania, had larger increases.

Policy analyst Christian Barnard said teacher pensions, health insurance, including for retirees, and other expenses are a big part of that increase.

When you get into the expenditure data, what is interesting is to look at where that extra money is going, and actually on both instruction and support services, you see that benefits are eating up the largest share of the increase in those many categories,” Barnard said.

Many point to the state’s administration costs as well. Illinois was the only state to spend more than a $1 billion on general administration at the district level in 2018.

Using Census Bureau data, the study found that nationwide, inflation-adjusted K-12 revenue grew by nearly 24%, or $3,005 per pupil, between 2002 and 2019. Per-pupil revenue increased in all but two states during that period, in North Carolina and Idaho.

In 2019, state dollars still accounted for the largest part of the K-12 funding total at 46.7% The breakdown is expected to change when more recent data becomes available due to the federal stimulus dollars sent to states during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are several categories of education expenditures, but the two largest are spending on elementary-secondary programs and capitol outlays. In total, more than 87% of education dollars are spent on elementary-secondary programs.

Barnard said the study can help state policymakers and other stakeholders make informed policy decisions that best serve students.

I think that there needs to be a lot of focus put on why there aren’t more dollars making it into classrooms and I think the benefit spending needs to be front and center with that,” Barnard said.

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