Illinois public schools a staggering $20 billion in debt: report

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CHICAGO — A new report says the state’s public school system is tens of billions of dollars in debt.

According to a Chicago Tribune investigation, Illinois’  public school districts are roughly $20 billion in debt, in part due to “special deals in Springfield that have given districts exemptions so they can keep borrowing beyond limits set by law.”

The Chicago Tribune reports the debt amounts to roughly $10,000 for every Pre-K to 12th-grade public school student in Illinois.

In some Illinois school districts, the Tribune reports, more local tax money is collected for debt payments than for teacher salaries and student instruction.

An example of the excessive over-borrowing is District 144, which had nearly $50 million in long-term debt last summer even though its limit was about $16 million, the Tribune reported.

Legislation has aided in the debt as well. The Tribune investigation revealed that House Republican Leader Cross was a chief sponsor of legislation that took effect in 2007 that allowed Oswego Community Unit School District 308 to issue up to $450 million in bonds without having that debt count against its borrowing limit.

Ford Heights School District 169 in south Cook County exceeded its calculated debt limit by almost 10 times, the Tribune reported.

The total long-term debt for all  857 Illinois districts is $19.7 billion.  Chicago Public Schools makes up about $6.3 billion of that total.

To read the full Tribune report, go here.