Public Schools in Obama’s Home State Drowning in $20 Billion Debt

Chicago teachers and supporters carry picket signs outside Beasley Academic Center in Chicago, Friday, April 1, 2016, during a one-day strike they say is aimed at getting lawmakers to adequately fund education and other programs in the nation's third-largest district. (Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)MANDATORY CREDIT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES; …

A new report on the state of the public school systems in Obama’s home state of Illinois finds they are $20 billion in debt with no end in sight to the growing budget failure.

According to a new review by the Chicago Tribune, the massive debt isn’t necessarily crushing the state’s schools, because the state legislature has passed laws to give schools the power to keep borrowing no matter what, so there is no incentive for the schools to mind budgets. According to the paper, the debt has accrued due to “special deals in Springfield that have given districts exemptions so they can keep borrowing beyond limits set by law.”

The Tribune found the state’s schools are collectively in enough debt to amount to about $10,000 for each Pre-K to 12th-grade public school student in the state.

“All the borrowing is a drain on taxpayers who have to repay the debt,” the paper noted, “as well as school budgets that must steer billions of dollars annually to principal and interest payments — money that could be targeted to classrooms. In some districts, more local tax money is collected for debt payments than for teacher salaries and student instruction.”

One public schools official told the paper that if a school in the state exceeds its limits “nothing happens,” so they just keep borrowing or they go to their representatives and get special set-asides or borrowing deals that sit outside their limits.

As an example, the paper revealed that one district supposedly had a debt limit of $16 million but last year reached $50 million, as there was no legal curb on its spending.

The problem isn’t just laid at the doorstep of state Democrats, either, as one bill in the state legislature filed by Republican House Leader Tom Cross allowed a district near his home to float $450 million in bonds without having the debt count toward its borrowing limit.

Another district, Ford Heights District 169, borrowed a whopping ten times more than its supposed borrowing limit.

Of the nearly $20 billion in debt statewide, the Chicago Public Schools account for a huge chunk totaling at least $6.3 billion in overages.

Yet, despite the massive overspending, teachers unions in many districts want more. Recently the Chicago Teachers Union launched an illegal one-day strike demanding raises and higher spending in the Windy City.

The strike was such an outrage to city officials that Chicago Public Schools chief Forrest Claypool vowed teachers would not be paid for missing the school day.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at


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