The Big Lie in Education Funding

By Bill Zettler

The ‘big lie’ in education funding In Illinois — the biggest “big lie” is the claim that public school  funding is inadequate.

The real problem in Illinois is not school funding; it is school spending. While school officials continually say Illinois is 48th in state funding, they forget to mention Illinois is second in local funding, i.e. property taxes. In fact, of the eight states with populations of 10 million or more, Illinois is ranked second in per capita expenditures for K-12 schools. So much for the “funding big lie.”

The highest paid teacher in 2003 made $196,000. That $196,000 was 23 percent more than the $159,000 he made in 2002, which was 16 percent more than the $136,000 he made in 2001, which was 17 percent more than the $116,000 he made in 2000. Is that a funding problem or a spending problem?

To make it to the top 100 salary list (, a teacher had to make more than $131,000. More than 5,000 public school employees made more than $100,000 last year, up 25 percent from 4,000 in 2002. Fifty-one made more than $200,000. Do these salaries represent a funding problem or a spending problem?

And when public officials use “unfunded mandates” to justify their demand for more dollars, they conveniently forget to mention the biggest “unfunded mandate” of all – state contributions to the Teachers Retirement System. In 2003, we taxpayers contributed $1 billion at the state level to the TRS, and that was $3 billion less than we needed just to break even. That’s right the deficit for the TRS in 2003 was greater than the deficit for the entire state of Illinois. Don’t you find it curious that no politicians are talking about this deficit?

Since teacher salaries were $7 billion in 2003, the $4 billion we needed for their pensions equals 57 percent of salary.

That means in addition to paying a teacher $ 196,000 in salary, we also had to contribute $111,000 to the TRS. Would you call an $111,000 taxpayer pension contribution to a $196,000-a-year teacher a funding problem or a spending problem?

In 2003, there were 350 members of the TRS with pensions of more than $100,000 a year, up 40 percent from 250 in 2002. Thousands more will be joining the $100,000 pension club over the next few years.

Is making part-time public employees multimillionaires in their 50s a funding problem or a spending problem?

So the next time you hear a millionaire-in-waiting school employee or union official calling for funding increases, ask him when he would like to switch over to Social Security and retire at 65 like the rest of us tax zealots. When he does that, we will consider more funding.

Bill Zettler is a free-lance writer and consultant specializing in public sector compensation. He can be contacted at this email address. Click here to read more by Mr. Zettler.