Inflation has zapped schools’ spending power of state and federal poverty funds. High schools are using discretionary dollars to hire more than twice as many security staff at more than three times the cost compared to 10 years ago.

And elementary schools earmark more than three-fourths of their poverty funds for instructional expenses, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of how schools budgeted discretionary funds this year.

High schools, which by necessity have more administrative needs, spend more than a third of their poverty funding on non-instructional expenses.

However, a chunk of that money pays for security, a likely side-effect of the district’s zero tolerance, according to a recent study by the Advancement Project, a democracy and justice action group based in Washington D.C.

Chicago Vocational and Marshall high schools each allocated a third of their poverty funds to security, more than other schools in the district.

Area Instructional Officer Cynthia Barron, who oversees high schools on the far South Side, notes such expenses are subject to scrutiny. “We need to look at that,” she says. “It’s a place where you don’t want schools spending all their money.”

The Catalyst analysis also found magnet and selective schools tend to spend more on enrichment programs and other extras, a finding backed up by an earlier study on funding equity that noted these schools tend to get more basic funding per pupil than regular schools. (Catalyst February 2005)

“[Elite schools] have more flexibility before they get to their discretionary money,” says G. Alfred Hess Jr., a school finance and budget expert at Northwestern University.

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