The cost to educate kids in the Northwest suburbs varies greatly by school
In the case of Illinois' second-largest elementary district with about 12,000 Northwest suburban students, the school with the biggest per-pupil expenditures has the most special education programs, according to the annual state report card released Wednesday.
At Palatine Township Elementary District 15, this year's report card with the new school-focused category shows that John G. Conyers Learning Academy in Rolling Meadows leads with $25,752 in per-student spending. On the low end in the 20-building system is Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Palatine at $10,147.
Schools such as Conyers Learning Academy must comply with Illinois State Board of Education regulations for class size and individualized education program needs. Per-pupil costs there are the highest because of personnel requirements, district officials said, including two nurses, about four administrators, classroom teachers, speech pathologists and psychologists.
District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz said the per-pupil, site-based expenditures allow for a broad view of spending categorized by schools. Generally, she said, they can highlight areas where programming needs exist that exceed typical expenditures, such as special education.
But there are some worries about the new report card listing.
"Districts are concerned that data will be misinterpreted due to a lack of understanding as to the many factors that contribute to per-pupil expenditure calculations submitted to the (state board of education)," Heinz said.
She added that spending factors include, but are not limited to, the types and quantity of programs and services offered in a school, associated costs to run programs, the number of students in a building, transportation requirements for certain sites and the number of longtime or new teachers at schools.
Conyers Learning Academy is the district's therapeutic day school, with significantly more special education programs than other buildings, officials said. They said the top three buildings for per-student spending on the report card have the highest number of special education programs, with Marion Jordan Elementary School in Palatine and Thomas Jefferson Elementary in Hoffman Estates each at nearly $15,000.
Some other Northwest suburban districts saw similar discrepancies due to a large number of students with various special needs.
For example, at Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54, the system's Early Learning Center in Schaumburg has a per-pupil expenditure of $28,969, compared to $10,919 for Frederick Nerge Elementary School in Roselle. The Early Learning Center, one of 28 buildings in the district, has special education and serves at-risk students.
At Barrington Area Unit District 220, Sunny Hill Elementary School in Carpentersville places first among 12 buildings at $21,108 in per-pupil expenditures, with Grove Avenue Elementary in Barrington lowest at $15,425. District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris said a low-income student population, bilingual and English as a Second Language programs, and state and federal funding requirements are reasons Sunny Hill tops the list.
State education officials said the new report card listing with the school-level per-pupil spending includes ongoing educational expenses, such as staffing, supplies, transportation, security, administrative services, and a school's proportional share of other centralized expenditures. Expenses are broken down by federal, state and local funding sources.
Highest per-student spending:
Early Learning Center (Schaumburg), Schaumburg District 54: $28,969
John G. Conyers Learning Academy (Rolling Meadows), Palatine District 15: $25,752
J.W. Riley Elementary School (Arlington Heights), Wheeling District 21: $22,619
Elk Grove High School, District 214: $20,659
Sunny Hill Elementary School (Carpentersville), Barrington District 220: $21,108.
Lowest per-student spending:
Westbrook Early Learning Center (Mount Prospect), District 57: $8,166
Lions Park Elementary School (Mount Prospect), District 57: $8,666
Fairview Elementary School (Mount Prospect), District 57: $8,922
Lincoln Middle School (Mount Prospect), District 57: $9,251
Pleasant Hill Elementary School (Palatine), District 15: $10,146
Source: 2019 Illinois Report Card