What the New Ohio Budget and School Funding Plan Will Mean for Public Schools

The FY 2022-2023 Ohio budget is different than most biennial state budgets because folded into it is a new public school funding formula, developed over more than three years and adopted previously by the Ohio House but never enacted by the Ohio Senate.  For those of you who worry about how public schools will fare under the new Ohio budget, the expert to consult is Howard Fleeter. In this post, I’ll summarize Fleeter’s analysis: FY22-23 State Budget Recap: Ohio’s New School Funding Formula, Voucher Changes and (yes, another round of) Income Tax Reductions.

Howard Fleeter is Ohio’s education funding expert. He has served Ohio’s education advocacy community through the Ohio Education Policy Institute (OEPI), since its inception in 1997. Fleeter regularly provides analysis for the Hannah News Service in a newsletter known as On the Money. In Cleveland, On the Money is available for library card holders in the research databases at the Cleveland Public Library, but the publication is not even available in Clevenet member branch libraries. Sadly On the Money is paywalled, which means you’ll have to trust me to summarize Fleeter’s conclusions.

Warning: In Fleeter’s new piece you cannot learn the answer to your primary question: How will my own school district fare during the upcoming biennium and beyond? And you won’t find the answer to your other urgent question: How long can my district put off going to the ballot to try pass yet another local levy?  On the other hand, Fleeter explains clearly and lucidly how the new budget and school funding plan will work.

Fleeter identifies the two essential components of Ohio’s school funding formula as being adequate school funding and the equitable distribution of the state’s contribution to the formula.

How the New Budget Addresses the Need for Adequate School Funding

The first problem the new formula must address is the old formula’s incapacity to measure how much money Ohio’s 610 school districts need: “Ohio’s most recent school funding formula, in place from FY14-FY19, did not employ any methodology for determining the base cost amount.”  The base cost is the formula’s calculation of the amount of combined state and local funding needed  to educate each of our state’s roughly 1.7 million children and adolescents. Fleeter continues: “Instead, the legislature simply set the per pupil amounts based on how much money they chose to allocate to K-12 education, an approach that the Supreme Court rejected over and over in the DeRolph case. In FY19 this amount was set at $6,200 per pupil…. The House funding plan (whose formula for base cost was adopted in the final budget) utilized an inputs-based approach to adequacy which resulted in an average base cost amount of roughly $7,200 per pupil, nearly 20% higher than the FY 19 figure…”  Fleeter credits Ohio’s new 2021 formula with the successful “development of an inputs-based methodology for determining the per-pupil base cost” for the first time since FY11.

What about other state investments beyond base cost? Unlike the Ohio Senate, the Ohio House in its proposed budget actually used up-to-date cost figures to determine how much school districts need for added categorical funding for students with disabilities, disadvantaged students, career-tech students, English language learners and gifted students. Sadly, although the House used accurate data, Fleeter reports that the House version of the budget called for $0 increase in disadvantage aid in FY 22 and only 1/7th of the scheduled increase in FY23.”  And, “An economically disadvantaged student cost study included in the House version of the budget was removed in the final version….”  The cost study, eliminated in negotiations with the Senate, was considered essential for identifying all the ways school districts should be providing additional support for students in communities where poverty is concentrated.

One positive: The old formula “included a ‘gain cap’ provision which limited annual increases in state funding to a pre-determined maximum percentage,” but in the new budget, “The much-despised gain cap has finally been eliminated.”  The gain cap problem affected growing school districts, which deserve additional per-pupil state dollars when more and more students move into the community. This problem in the old formula had frozen state funding under a gain cap for 163 of the state’s 610 districts.  The final budget does protect a transitional hold-harmless guarantee for districts whose enrollment is falling.

Another positive:  In the new budget the state “directly funds” vouchers and charter schools out of the state budget. Every time students leave for charter schools or take vouchers to a private school, the school district will no longer see a per-pupil charter school fee and the cost of each private school voucher extracted right out of the local school district budget. Fleeter writes: “This change has been 20 years overdue and brings Ohio in line with how most other states fund charter schools and voucher programs.”

One potential problem. The new budget folds an important budget line from the FY21-FY22 budget, Governor Mike DeWine’s Student Wellness and Success Program, into the current budget’s Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid without additional funding. This program is “intended to provide resources to address nonacademic barriers to student success, including mental health services, ‘wraparound services’ such as dental, vision, and medical care, family engagement and support services, and after school programs and mentoring.” Fleeter explains that the change “raises questions as to whether this funding stream will ultimately be spent on new initiatives to help reduce non-academic barriers to student success (as envisioned by Governor DeWine) or will simply be absorbed into the spending that districts are already incurring.”

How the New Budget Addresses the Need for More Equitably Distributed School Funding

The FY22-FY23 budget introduces a new mechanism for calculating each school district’s capacity to raise the local portion of school funding: “The state and local share mechanism is by far the single most important driver of equity in Ohio’s school funding formula. Property wealth has traditionally been the basis for the state/local share calculation because it is a reflection of school districts’ varying local tax revenue capacity. However, it is essential that the income level of school district residents also be included because this is a reflection of the ‘ability-to-pay’ of district residents. Ability-to-pay is important in Ohio because the heavy reliance on school levies as a result of HB 920 (the state’s local property tax freeze law) means that districts with lower income residents are less able to tap into whatever tax capacity they have by approving local levies.”

The new state budget employs “an income factor which adjusts the local share downward (and the state share upward) in school districts with income levels below the statewide median income and does the reverse in districts with income levels above the statewide median income. The most current data available is used to make this calculation.” Fortunately the final state budget incorporates the House version of the new local share calculation. The Senate budget “did not update the property value and income data, continuing to use 2014, 2015, and 2016 property value data and 2013, 2014, and 2015 income data.  Had the Senate’s funding formula been implemented in FY22 and FY23, the underlying data would have been 10 years old when it was updated in FY24 and FY25, which would have likely caused serious funding disruptions for many school districts.”

One Huge Problem with the New School Funding Formula

The final FY22-FY23 state budget school funding plan was a compromise between the House version built around the Cupp-Patterson Fair School Funding Plan and a new and much cheaper Senate proposal.  Although many of the mechanisms of the House Fair School Funding Plan were finally incorporated into the budget, the plan’s full six-year phase-in didn’t make it.

Fleeter writes: “The most significant concern with regard to Ohio’s new school funding formula is that HB110 (the final budget) specifies that the funding changes described above are only funded for the FY22 and FY23 school years. The funding formula developed by the Cupp-Patterson workgroup… called for a 6-year phase-in period. With the exception of Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid… increases in all funding components are correspondingly phased in at a rate of 16.7% in FY22 and 33.3% in FY23.  However, under HB 110, there is no language which outlines further funding phase-ins in FY24 and beyond.”

The Legislature’s added failure to phase in the 100% increase in Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid in FY22, as the House had proposed, and its failure to fund the House’s proposed cost study of the needs of economically disadvantaged students will only exacerbate the threat that the new formula once again will fall far behind what students need. There is good reason to fear that despite the best intentions of the legislators and experts who developed the Fair School Funding Plan over more than three years, this budget, will fail to address the needs of the state’s poorest children and will, as time passes, perpetuate long-running inequity.

One more thing… All the Ways the Legislature Expanded EdChoice Vouchers

The leadership in the Ohio Senate is devoted to expanding school privatization, and EdChoice vouchers are one place where the Ohio Senate left a big mark on the new state budget.  In his report last week, Fleeter simply lists all the ways the Legislature used the new FY22-FY23 budget to expand the state’s investment in one of its largest school voucher programs—EdChoice. The size of each K-8 voucher will grow from $4,650 to $5,500 and for each high school voucher from $6,000 to $7,500.  The legislature altogether eliminated “the cap on the number of EdChoice vouchers… which had previously been set at 60,000.” EdChoice vouchers are for children in the attendance area of a school on an eligibility list based on academic performance, but in the new budget all siblings of students who currently have a voucher are available wherever they live.  Students will also be eligible for EdChoice if they live in the attendance area of a public school that ranks in the lowest 20 percent on the State School Report Card Performance Index.  While there used to be a 75 day window for submitting an application for an EdChoice voucher, there is now “a rolling window with no closing date.”

And finally and most alarming, the new budget has begun “phasing out the requirement that students must have attended a public school in the year prior to qualifying for an EdChoice voucher. “This criteria had already applied to high school students (including incoming 9th graders) and will now be extended over a 4 year period to include K-8th grade students. By the FY26 school year no student would be required to have attended a public school in the year prior in order to be eligible to receive an EdChoice voucher.”

With the Legislature’s having reduced myriad limitations on eligibility for EdChoice vouchers, eliminating the cap, and making the application process open ended, one wonders how the overall budget for this program can possibly be anticipated or controlled.

That’s why, the Columbus Dispatch’s Grace Deng reports: “A coalition of 75 Ohio public school districts planning to sue the state over the EdChoice school voucher program said Monday the newly enacted state budget was an ‘assault’ on public schools.”

New Ohio Budget Will Demonstrate What Our State’s Leaders Value

I have never observed such a sense of urgency among educators and parents as we wait to see the compromises that will come out of Ohio’s House-Senate budget conference committee as soon as this afternoon. The Ohio Legislature must pass a budget and send it to Governor Mike DeWine for his signature by Thursday, the beginning of the FY 2022-2023 biennium.

One reason anxiety is running high is because the Ohio Senate has put off acting on a House-passed, brand new, school finance formula that experts say would comply with the demands of the Ohio Constitution for the first time since the Ohio Supreme Court found our state’s school funding unconstitutional 24 years ago. The Ohio Senate allowed legislation for the new school funding formula to die on December 31 at the end of the session by refusing to consider or vote on the bill after the House passed it earlier in the month.

Senate leaders argued they needed more time to study the plan, which the House reintroduced as Issue 1 last winter. When the Senate again failed to act, the House inserted the Fair School Funding Plan into its version of the next state budget, but the Senate didn’t respond until early June, when Senate leaders inserted their own substitute school funding plan—without significant discussion—into the Senate’s version of the state budget.

The House Fair School Funding Plan was developed by legislators, educators, and school finance experts over three years, while the Senate’s alternative merely appeared. The state’s seasoned school funding expert, who has studied and reported on our school funding system since the early 1990s, Howard Fleeter has explained not only that Senators based their new formula on outdated property valuation and median income data, a problem guaranteeing that the Senate’s plan won’t keep up with inflation, but also that the Senators failed to correct a mistaken calculation in the old formula that mismeasures each school district’s capacity to generate property tax revenue.

Why does all this arcane stuff seem frankly frightening to parents and teachers and school superintendents? Here are two experts dissecting the ongoing deterioration of Ohio’s method of funding public education, which left all of the state’s 610 school districts with state funding frozen at the FY 2019 level throughout the past two school years, and which previously had left over 80 percent of the state’s school districts on hold-harmless guaranteed funding or with state funding capped.

  1. In April, outlining Ohio’s urgent need for the Fair School Funding Plan, Policy Matters Ohio’s state fiscal expert Wendy Patton explained: “Even as policymakers have expected public schools to do more, they have cut state aid to public schools over time, by allowing it to be eroded by inflation and diversion of funds to charter schools… and vouchers… As a result, public schools have increasingly relied on local resources, which causes unequal funding…. This is because our state’s school funding system relies heavily on property taxes, which advantages wealthier districts… As corporations eliminated jobs with living wages in Ohio, racial discrimination in employment and government-sanctioned segregation forced Black, Indigenous and other people of color into neighborhoods of concentrated poverty…. Schools in these communities need additional resources, but the declining local tax base cannot generate what’s needed. Many rural and small-town districts have faced economic challenges that make it hard for them to provide local funding.”  Overreliance on local property taxes was specifically found unconstitutional in the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in DeRolph.
  2. In May 6, 2021 testimony to the Senate Education Committee, Howard Fleeter described how the framers of the House’s Fair School Funding Plan designed the plan to address what has been alarming and  long-standing inequity in Ohio school finance: “Funding for economically disadvantaged students in particular has lagged well behind the growth in the number of such students over the past 20 years (funding has increased 22% while the number of (these) students has increased 61% since FY01)… Studies in other states have indicated that the additional costs of educating low-income students are typically 30% or more… Targeted Assistance and Capacity Aid should be retained as is the case in the HB110 funding formula (the Fair School Funding Plan).  These two formula components supplement formula funding by providing additional funds to low wealth districts that lack the tax base to pursue local educational initiatives in the same manner that wealthier districts can through local levies.”

Thankfully, both chambers of the legislature say they will agree to eliminate the state’s punitive and disequalizing school district deduction method for funding vouchers and charter schools—a method which deducts a state-set fee for each voucher or charter school tuition right out of the local budget despite that the school district’s state per-pupil foundation assistance is in many cases less than the cost of the voucher or charter school tuition. But despite this important reform, the Ohio Senate’s school funding plan exacerbates several other problems for public schools on top of the primary problem of our dated, inequitable and inadequate school funding formula. The Senate’s budget hurts public schools by:

  • expanding  the size of each taxpayer funded, private school voucher from $4,650 to $5,500 for K-8 students and from $6,000 to $7,500 for high school students;
  • adding a neo-voucher tuition tax credit program for families with income below $300 percent of the federal poverty line;
  • creating taxpayer funded education savings accounts for home schooling;
  • permitting widespread scattering of charter schools across all the school districts in the state, while in the past their location has been limited to so-called “challenged” school districts; and
  • requiring that school districts sell or lease a school building to a charter school if the public school building was used in the previous school year for academic instruction for students at less than 60 percent of building capacity.

All this is in addition to the Ohio Senate’s proposed 5 percent cut in income taxes. Policy Matters’ Wendy Patton presented testimony demonstrating that only the wealthy will benefit from what the Senate is proposing: “Nearly half of the tax reduction would go to those in the top 5%, who are paid more than $221,000 a year. The top 1% percent, who have income of at least $526,000, would average a cut of $1,712 and receive a quarter of the tax reductions. The tax reductions in the Senate bill come on top of huge tax cuts the richest Ohioans have received over the past 16 years. While lower-and middle-income Ohioans on average saw little change or paid more in state and local taxes, the top 1% received more than $40,000 a year in tax cuts.”

Despite Patton’s warning, Gongwer reports that Senate President Matt Huffman explained last week that new higher revenue projections for the upcoming biennium in addition to American Rescue Plan funds might push him to increase tax cuts above the 5 percent already proposed in the Senate’s early June budget. Huffman has declared that higher revenue must be spent on one-time expenses this year instead of long-term investments in education or other programs.  However, he has failed to acknowledge that the tax cuts he is proposing—based on this year’s revenue—would not be rescinded at the end of this year. These tax cuts would be permanent unless the legislature subsequently raised taxes.

Alarm about House-Senate budget negotiations is not limited to public school supporters.  In a letter last week to legislators and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, 97 state and local organizations identified problems in the Ohio Senate’s version of the budget: “It removes the plan to fairly and equitably fund our K-12 schools, dismantles the state’s foundation for ensuring high-quality child care, and removes critical funding to expand broadband access to our neighbors across the state. Another change will lead to fewer affordable housing options for low-income seniors, people with disabilities and parents trying to provide a better life for their children… All of these changes will be damaging to the long-term health and well-being of children, adults and families… particularly Ohioans with low wages… State lawmakers have cut income taxes for the wealthiest Ohioans for 16 years and Ohio continues to fall behind the nation on jobs, wages, and overall quality of life.”

The Plain Dealer‘s editors castigate the lack of moral principle in the Ohio Senate’s proposed budget: “The Senate says it’s just being frugal but the numbers belie that. Its proposal would add to inequities in school funding while perpetuating divisions over something that should unite Ohioans of all political stripes—the need to invest in our children.”

This blog has examined Ohio’s Fair School Funding Plan here.

School Finance Expert Demonstrates Flaws in Ohio Senate’s Proposed School Funding Formula

Ohio Senate Finance Chair Matt Dolan penned a disingenuous column for the June 13 Plain Dealer to brag about the new school funding formula his Senate Finance Committee has substituted into the proposed state budget. Dolan is wrong when he claims that the Senate’s substitute for the House’s proposed Fair School Funding Plan would be “sustainable, stable and predictable” and when he claims that his plan “will alleviate the pressure on local school district budgets.”

Dolan has said that the legislature should be careful about initiating a plan whose phase-in might cost more over six years than the legislature can afford, but his argument lost any credibility last week when the Director of the Ohio Office of Budget and Management Kimberly Murnieks announced that “she expects the state to have a surplus of $1.7 billion by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, and a $1.6 billion surplus in June 2022.  That’s $3 billion more than the deficit the state had predicted.”

Dolan and the Senate Republican majority have also insisted on a 5% income tax cut that will lower taxes for the wealthy. Policy Matters Ohio’s Wendy Patton explains: “Nearly half of the tax reduction would go to those in the top 5%, who are paid more than $221,000 a year. The top 1% percent, who have income of at least $526,000, would average a cut of $1,712 and receive a quarter of the tax reductions. The tax reductions in the Senate bill come on top of huge tax cuts the richest Ohioans have received over the past 16 years. While lower-and middle-income Ohioans on average saw little change or paid more in state and local taxes, the top 1% received more than $40,000 a year in tax cuts.” It is troubling that Ohio’s state senators favor tax cuts for the wealthy when they could instead rectify decades of underfunding the state’s school funding formula.

The Senate’s plan adds some money right now for he state’s public schools over the upcoming biennium.  The House plan, by contrast, was designed over three years by a panel of experts to be sustainably updated  over time after an initial  six year phase-in to remedy what has been frozen state funding—at the FY 2019 level—for the entire FY2020-2021 biennium.

At the most basic level, the Senate plan would penalize public school districts. As the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding’s Bill Phillis pointed out last week, “The Senate whacked about $30 million out of the House budget for the transportation subsidy and $90 million from school bus purchase.”  Rural school districts which must bus children long distances have no spending latitude within their transportation budgets, and Ohio mandates that public school districts pay transportation costs for busing students to private, religious, and charter schools, adding expensive distances to cover and complicating school bus routing.

The House Fair School Funding Plan accomplishes precisely what a state school funding formula is supposed to do. Here is how Bruce Baker, the Rutgers University school finance expert defines the function of a school funding formula: “School funding is largely in the hands of states (mandated by their constitutions), and the primary job of states’ finance systems should be to account for differences between their districts in the cost of providing that minimal level of educational quality, and then to distribute funds in a manner that compensates for the fact that some districts have less ability than others to pay these costs (e.g. via property taxes).  For instance, districts serving large proportions of high-needs students will tend to have higher costs; if those districts lack the local capacity to pay those costs, state revenue needs to fill the gaps.”

The school funding expert at the Ohio Education Policy Institute, Howard Fleeter has released a complicated analysis which examines the flaws in the Senate’s school funding proposal Matt Dolan brags about. While the Ohio House’s Fair School Funding Plan was developed over three years by legislators, educators and policy experts to cost out the services school districts are required to provide and to measure accurately each school district’s capacity to generate local funding, Fleeter explains that the Senate’s substitute proposal “is essentially a recalculation of the FY19 funding formula with a handful of changes.” But, Fleeter adds, there are serious problems in the way the recalculation was done: “Most of these issues are related to the Senate funding proposal not properly updating the data used to compute the FY22 and FY23 foundation formula funding amounts.”

For example, “The property valuation and income data that is used to compute the State Share Index (SSI) in the Senate’s FY22 and FY23 funding plan is the exact same as was used in the FY18/FY19 State Share Index… The data mentioned above presumably would have been updated by two years to compute the SSI in FY20 and FY21 had the funding formula not been frozen, and then updated by an additional two years for use in FY22 and FY 23.”  And to figure out per-pupil data, “The Senate’s enrollment figure used to calculate the SSI is still based on FY17 data.” And the Senate’s formula “uses FY18 teacher salary data to calculate the FY22 formula amount.”   For all these reasons, Fleeter explains, the per-pupil base cost amount in the Senate’s proposed formula “does not keep pace with inflation.”

The state school funding formula has lagged behind the real cost of public education for years now.  Fleeter explains: “FY 09 is the last year the base cost per pupil amount was based on a defensible adequacy methodology. Measuring inflation from July 2008 (the beginning of FY09) and now (April 2021) reveals a 21.4% inflation rate.  In contrast, $6,110 (the per-pupil amount produced by the proposed Senate plan)… shows an increase of only 6.6%. Thus, inflation since FY09 has been more than three times the rate of increase in the (school funding) foundation level proposed by the Senate. Looked at another way, if the $5,732 per pupil amount from FY09 were simply increased by inflation, it would have reached $6,959 as of April 2021, implying it would be nearly $7,000 per pupil by the time that FY 22 begins.” Fleeter believes that the Senate’s proposed substitute formula is inadequate to cover necessary costs school districts face today, while the House’s Fair School Funding Plan, when fully phased in will fund services at their real cost.

Fleeter adds that a serious mistake in the state’s current school funding formula—a technical problem in the way the State Share Index (SSI) is currently calculated—is replicated in the Senate’s new proposal. The problem has been corrected in the House’s proposed Fair School Funding Plan. The current SSI calculation mistakenly creates a local school district “wealth index which serves to intertwine Ohio’s 609 school districts with one another. This means that changes in property values (and income) in some districts will affect the amount of state aid received in other districts… Because the SSI property value index compares property values per pupil to the state average, districts with no agricultural property now appeared wealthier than before because their unchanged property values were now compared to a lower statewide average. This change then caused these districts to receive less state aid even though their circumstances did not change.”  Fleeter concludes: “Under the House funding plan, districts will see their state aid change from year to year based only upon how their property value and income have changed while changes in the circumstances of other districts will have no impact… As a final note, the House’s state/local share calculation is based upon the most currently available data, as is their Targeted Assistance calculation.”

Thankfully, both chambers of the legislature plan to eliminate the state’s punitive and disequalizing school district deduction method for funding vouchers and charter schools. But the Ohio Senate’s budget exacerbates several other problems for public schools across our state on top of the primary problem in its inadequate school funding formula. The Senate budget expands the size of taxpayer funded, private school vouchers from by from $4,650 to $5,500 for K-8 students and from $6,000 to $7,500 for high school students; adds a neo-voucher tuition tax credit program for families with income below $300 percent of the federal poverty line; and creates tax payer funded education savings accounts for home schooling.  All this is in addition to the Ohio Senate’s 5% cut in income taxes.

The Ohio Legislature’s budget conference committee should put the Ohio House’s Fair School Funding Plan back into the budget to repair longstanding problems in our state’s funding of public schools, forget about expanding vouchers, and leave out the tax cut. The Ohio Constitution does not envision education as part of a marketplace where individual parent consumers seek the perfect educational choice for each individual student.  Instead the state constitution defines public schools as an essential part of the social contract—the embodiment of our mutual responsibility to each other as fellow citizens and to Ohio’s children. Paying taxes for government services including public schools is a civic responsibility of individuals and businesses, with the greatest obligation assumed by those with the greatest financial means.

This blog has covered problems in this year’s Ohio Senate Budget proposal here, here and here.

Buying into the Social Contract is Different from Buying Education with a Public Tuition Voucher in a Privatized School Marketplace

For a quarter of a century, Ohio has pursued the accountability-based “education reform” strategy that was formalized in the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.

Ohio holds schools accountable for raising students’ scores on high-stakes standardized tests by imposing sanctions on schools and school districts unable quickly to raise scores. Ohio identifies so-called “failing” public schools, ranks them on school district report cards, and locates privatized charter schools and voucher qualification within the boundaries of low-scoring districts.  Additionally, the state takes over so-called failing school districts and imposes Academic Distress Commissions as overseers. Ohio’s students are held back in third grade if their reading scores are too low, and high school seniors must pass exit exams to graduate.

After more than two decades of this sort of school policy, student achievement hasn’t increased and test score gaps have not closed.  Ohio is a state with eight big cities—Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Toledo, Youngstown, Akron, and Canton; lots of smaller cities and towns; Appalachian rural areas and Indiana-like rural areas; and myriad income-stratified suburbs. Just as they do across the United States, aggregate standardized test scores correlate most closely with family and neighborhood income, not with the characteristics of the public schools. In the fall of 2019, the Plain Dealer’s data wonk, Rich Exner, created a series of bar graphs to demonstrate the almost perfect correlation of school districts’ letter grades on the state school district report card with family income.

But while Ohio has punished so-called “failing” schools, it hasn’t done much to help the public schools in Ohio’s poorest communities. In profound testimony before the Ohio State Board of Education in early April, Policy Matters Ohio’s Wendy Patton described several decades of fiscal realities for Ohio’s 610 school districts, conditions that have accompanied the decades of punitive accountability: “(T)he state provided slightly more than half of the funding for Ohio schools, on average, in 1987, but since then local dollars have paid for the greater part of funding… Gov. Ted Strickland narrowed the gap over his 4 year term…. But Gov. John Kasich promptly reversed that effort with a $1.8 billion cut to school funding imposed over the two-year budget of 2012-13.  School funding has lagged ever since. By 2020, the state share of school funding had fallen to its lowest point since 1985.”

Patton continues, noting that state funding has been not only inadequate but also unstable: “Lawmakers have allowed state funding for Ohio’s public schools to rise and fall over time, adjusted for inflation. They also changed the formula for granting state aid four times over the past dozen years.  Uncertainty in state aid made planning and staffing hard for districts…  Poverty affects children’s ability to learn, and concentrated poverty makes it worse.  In the first years following the Supreme Court finding (DeRolph case), educators persuaded the legislature to provide extra funding for students experiencing poverty.  But over time the number of economically disadvantaged students in Ohio rose, but funding did not keep pace.”

While Ohio’s legislature has doggedly enacted punitive school accountability and at the same time allowed school funding to collapse, however, in recent years a philosophical divide in the legislature has emerged and widened on the subject of public school funding.  Despite that both of Ohio’s legislative chambers are now dominated by Republican supermajorities, the Ohio House, led by Bob Cupp, passed a major Fair School Funding Plan last December, a plan that meets the 24-year—until now unfulfilled—mandate of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in DeRolph v. Ohio.  The Ohio House passed the Fair School Funding Plan by an overwhelming margin of 87-9 and sent it to the Senate, where Senate Finance Committee Chair Matt Dolan and incoming Senate President Matt Huffman killed the plan at the end of the legislative session by refusing to bring it to the floor for a vote.

In early February in the Ohio House, sponsors immediately reintroduced the Fair School Funding Plan at the beginning of the new legislative session. Then the Ohio House folded the plan into the proposed FY 2022-23 biennial budget, which the House passed on Wednesday and sent forward as HB 110 to the Ohio Senate. Although the need for a new school funding plan has been exhaustively demonstrated, there is widespread worry that the fate of the Fair School Funding plan rests with Senator Matt Huffman, whose website defines him this way: “President Huffman is devoted to quality school choices for all families, lowering taxes and reducing regulations on Ohio’s small business.”

The Toledo Blade‘s Jim Provance describes Huffman’s careful but unenthusiastic response to the school funding plan in the new budget: “Senate President Matt Huffman (R.. Lima) raised concerns about the general level of spending in the House-passed plan: ‘Financially, the government is in good shape at the state level… That doesn’t mean necessarily all the citizens are. I think it’s easier to make decisions that can be catastrophic in the long term when, at the moment, there’s a lot of money available.'”

The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Jessie Balmert reports the same kind of lukewarm, cautious response from Huffman: “The fate of that new school funding formula, which would be phased in over six years, is murky.  Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, has said he doesn’t like the price tag, and the GOP-controlled Senate is working on its own way to pay for schools.”

The thing is that Matt Huffman has not been the least bit shy about expanding his own priority for school privatization. Last November he alone revised one of Ohio’s punitive educational accountability schemes—EdChoice Vouchers—by putting the burden for paying for the vouchers on the state’s poorest school districts. In late November of last year, Huffman rammed through, without any open hearings, changes in the EdChoice Voucher program, which has for several years been funded through school district deductions. (The state counts voucher students as though they are enrolled in a school district and then removes $6,000 for each high school student and $4,650 for each K-8 student right out of the school district’s local budget for the student to pay private school tuition. The district receives the state’s per-pupil basic aid for each of the students, but in many cases the voucher extracts more money than the school district receives for that student from the state.)  In November, to solidify support for the program from legislators representing Ohio’s wealthy suburbs, Huffman revised the program so that only students in federally designated Title I schools can now qualify for EdChoice vouchers, thereby placing the financial burden of this program only on the school districts serving Ohio’s poorest children.

Now that the Fair School Funding Plan has been sent to the Ohio Senate as part of the House budget, the worry, of course, is that Huffman’s chamber will delete the plan—developed over several years to balance the need for adequate and equitably distributed state school funding—or redesign it to save money. The plan is calculated around the actual costs of personnel like teachers, counselors, and school nurses and other basics like technology, transportation, and facilities.  In a House Finance Committee hearing on December 2, 2020, Ohio school funding expert Howard Fleeter presented testimony explaining that due to a long collapse in school funding, Ohio’s school funding formula has ceased to work: “The FY10-11 school year was the last year in which Ohio had a school funding formula… which was based on objective methodologies for determining the cost of providing an adequate education to Ohio’s 1.6 million public school students.  In FY12 and FY13, Ohio employed the ‘Bridge’ formula which was not really a formula at all, instead basing funding on FY11 levels. From FY14 through FY19, Ohio did have a school funding formula; however, this formula suffered from several significant deficiencies. First the base cost was not based on any adequacy methodology, instead just utilizing per pupil amounts selected by the legislature. This approach is the very embodiment of ‘residual budgeting’ which was explicitly ruled unconstitutional in the March 1997 DeRolph ruling.”  Although the term “residual budgeting” sounds technical, what Fleeter means is that from FY 14 to FY 19, without considering actual school expenses, the Legislature simply set per-pupil state funding based on now much “residual” money the Legislature had left in the budget after funding all the other expenses of state government.

What would cause Ohio’s state senators to fail to address such a serious injustice for our state’s children?

What we are watching here in Ohio is a conflict in basic values between House and Senate and even between two Republicans from Lima, Ohio: Bob Cupp, the Speaker of the House, and Matt Huffman, the Senate President. Senator Huffman understands schooling from the point of view of consumerist individualism: He supports policies that encourage families to choose their children’s education privately as though they are buying a car or a selecting a smart phone. But the money to pay tuition would come from Ohio tax revenues. Representative Cupp, who has spent a long legislative career informing himself about school finance, understands our public schools, protected by the specific language of the Ohio Constitution, as the center of the social contract. Public education is an institution that epitomizes our mutual responsibility to each other as fellow citizens in a democratic experiment.

The wide support for the Fair School Funding plan expressed by the members of the Ohio House of Representatives demonstrates the values defined by the late political philosopher, Benjamin Barber: “Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics. It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right. Private choices rest on individual power… personal skills… and personal luck.  Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities, and presume equal rights for all. Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract. With privatization, we are seduced back into the state of nature by the lure of private liberty and particular interest; but what we experience in the end is an environment in which the strong dominate the weak… the very dilemma which the original social contract was intended to address.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)

Will Ohio Senate Undermine Fair School Funding Plan By Burying Changes in Fine Print of the State Budget?

The Ohio House of Representatives is, thankfully, being persistent in trying to pass a new, adequate, and equitable public school funding formula. Ohio educators and parents will remember that on December 2 of last year, the Ohio House passed the Cupp-Patterson Fair School Funding Plan by an overwhelming margin of 87-9, but the bill died at the end of the 133th legislative session, after the Ohio Senate Finance Committee refused to bring the plan to a vote.

On February 3, 2021, the Fair School Funding Plan was reintroduced in the 134th General Assembly as HB 1. On Tuesday, the plan was embedded in the House’s FY 2022-2023 proposed Ohio budget bill (House Bill 110).

The plan has been thoroughly vetted.  It was developed over several years by a large group of experts and stakeholders and then further improved to emphasize equity by additional experts during a year of revisions before the House considered the plan during 2020.

Why is revision of our state’s school funding plan so urgently important?  From the time of the founding of our nation, public education and the franchise have been understood as two central institutions at the heart of American democracy. Through Reconstruction and the fight for equality and civil rights in the mid-20th century, our society has made strides toward ensuring an educated citizenry and protecting the rights of all children, but we have never fully lived up to the promise of educational justice for all. For generations there has been resistance to funding the public schools that serve America’s poorest children in our cities and rural areas.

At the Ohio House Finance Committee’s final, December 2, 2020 hearing on on the proposed Fair School Funding Plan (before the House passed the plan last year), Ohio school funding expert Howard Fleeter presented testimony explaining that due to a long collapse in school funding, Ohio’s school funding formula has ceased to work: “The FY10-11 school year was the last year in which Ohio had a school funding formula… which was based on objective methodologies for determining the cost of providing an adequate education to Ohio’s 1.6 million public school students.  In FY12 and FY13, Ohio employed the ‘Bridge’ formula which was not really a formula at all, instead basing funding on FY11 levels. From FY14 through FY19, Ohio did have a school funding formula; however, this formula suffered from several significant deficiencies. First the base cost was not based on any adequacy methodology, instead just utilizing per pupil amounts selected by the legislature. This approach is the very embodiment of ‘residual budgeting’ which was explicitly ruled unconstitutional in the March 1997 DeRolph ruling.”  Although the term “residual budgeting” sounds technical and complicated, what Fleeter means is that from FY 14 to FY 19, without considering such costs as teachers’ salaries, or technology, or transportation, or building maintenance, the Legislature simply set per-pupil state funding based on now much “residual” money the Legislature had left in the budget after funding all the other expenses of state government.

Today Ohio is one of the states that spends less per pupil on public schools that serve  poor and minority children. In an appendix to a September 4, 2019 report, Howard Fleeter explained: “Over the past decade, Ohio has systematically reduced funding for school districts serving concentrations of poor children:

  • “For much of the past 30+ years, funding for economically disadvantaged students has increased at a far slower rate than the foundation level. Even worse, poverty funding has actually decreased by 13% from FY09 to FY18.
  • “Since 2001, the rate of increase in the number of low income students has been nearly 3 times as great as the rate of increase in state funding for these students.
  • “Funding for economically disadvantaged students in Ohio has become significantly more structured and restricted in the past 15 years as funding has been focused on programs related to the additional needs of these students and away from unrestricted grants.
  • “There has never been an objective study to determine the adequate level of funding for the programs needed to serve economically disadvantaged students.
  • “The focus on funding programs for economically disadvantaged students has largely ignored the impact of poverty on the social and emotional needs of low income children. These issues need to be addressed alongside – and arguably before – the academic needs of these children.”

Ohio’s constitution protects the right to free public education for all children. Like the school funding court cases in many states, DeRolph v. Ohio established that the Ohio Constitution protects adequate public school funding, equitably distributed. Ohio has for decades shirked this responsibility by overly relying on funding public schools with local property taxes, which are inherently unequal and perpetuate systemic patterns of lack of access and opportunity. This practice was declared unconstitutional in the DeRolph decision more than two decades ago but has not been rectified.

Further, Ohio’s constitution protects public funding for public schools, but it does not protect funding for school privatization in charter schools and through tuition vouchers for private schools. Despite that our state constitution does not provide for funding school privatization, Ohio has rapidly increased funding for private school tuition vouchers and charter schools while public school funding has languished. Yesterday, in his daily message, the executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding,  Bill Phillis profiled the current annul loss of public school funding to charter schools and vouchers in one large Ohio school district: “According to March 1 payment of SFPR Summary Worksheet Reports (ODE), one of Ohio’s school districts is receiving $367,753,129.99 in total Foundation Formula Funding, including additional aid from the state. The voucher deduction is $38,441,985.75 and the charter deduction is $169,483,488.26—a total of $208 million; hence, only 43% of the district’s state funds apply to the students being educated in the district.”

It is perfectly clear that Ohio urgently needs a new school funding formula. While it is encouraging that the Fair School Funding Plan has now been introduced as part of the state budget, I would have preferred that the plan had been fully considered as part of HB 1, a stand alone bill with extensive and transparent hearings. The Ohio Senate refused to consider this bill only four months ago, and there is every reason to believe the Senate leadership will try to slip more funding for charters and vouchers into the budget and less money for public schools. Further, the proposed budget includes an  unnecessary two percent tax cut—more of the same after years of tax cuts under former governor, John Kasich.

The framers of the Ohio Constitution understood public education as the center of the social contract; they believed that public schools epitomize our mutual responsibility to each other as fellow citizens in a democratic experiment. They did not view education as part of a marketplace where individual parent consumers seek the perfect individual choice for each family. Tiny amendments—designed to expand charter schools and vouchers and inserted by Ohio state senators at the last minute into the fine print of previous budget bills—have relentlessly increased the Ohio Legislature’s investment in school privatization at the expense of the state’s public schools.

In the next two-and-a-half months, educators and public school advocates must vigilantly track adjustments and changes the Ohio Senate may attempt to make in the Fair School Funding Plan as the budget moves toward approval by the end of June.

Ohio Senate Killed New School Funding Plan: Now We Hear That Money Doesn’t Matter

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber explained on Tuesday that, “The Auditor of State’s Office recently completed a performance audit for the Ohio Department of Education.” Faber says that the purpose is to make recommendations about “economy, efficiency, and/or effectiveness in the areas reviewed…”

One of the subjects of the new report from the Ohio Auditor’s office is the correlation of school districts’ expenditure per pupil with their school performance as measured by standardized tests.  Here, from the Performance Audit Summary, is what the Auditor discovered: “Conclusion: Expenditure per pupil has a loose association with Achievement in Ohio, particularly at the high performing districts.  As total district spending increases, there is no single expenditure category driving this increase.”  Later in the body of the report, the Auditor states: “The analyses in this section indicate that it is not necessary for districts to spend more to get better results. The data show that lower spending districts can achieve at the same level as higher spending districts, a point which parents and taxpayers should take into consideration in their personal decision-making surrounding financial and performance issues in their district. ODE and LEAs should consider if there is a point of diminishing returns in spending, where additional district revenue and expenditures will not necessarily increase student success.”

The Plain Dealer‘s Emily Bamforth digs deeper, explaining to readers that one purpose of the Audit was to discover which practices in high spending school districts are most essential for raising test scores: “The research found there is a low correlation between per-pupil spending and success on the Performance Index, and often higher spending was correlated with a lower index score. The auditor’s report maps the analysis, which shows clusters of high spending compared to low index scores around urban areas, like Cleveland and Cincinnati. The conclusion was used to reinforce recommendations to the Department of Education to review the highest performing districts’ practices to see what could be applied to other schools, and for community members to question spending relative to student success.”

I give Bamforth credit for questioning the Auditor’s conclusions and highlighting some of what is missing in the auditor’s report: “(T)he state auditor’s office claims that spending-per-pupil in districts is not closely correlated with student success. However, this conclusion does not factor in socioeconomic data that might affect student performance. Socioeconomic standing affects outcomes in many areas of life, including education and health, according to the American Psychological Association.  Socioeconomic status includes household income, among other factors.”

Bamforth cites the American Psychological Association, but the body of research examining the correlation of school districts’ aggregate standardized test scores with family and neighborhood economics is long, deep, and overwhelming. Academic research in two areas—(1) the correlation of lower school achievement with socioeconomic opportunity gaps, and (2) the impact of per-pupil spending on student achievement—confirms Bamforth’s skepticism about the new report from Ohio Auditor Keith Faber.

The Research on the Difference Between School Achievement Gaps and Opportunity Gaps

In their 2014 book, 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools, educational researchers David Berliner and Gene Glass explain: “For schools to be a powerful solution to the problems of poverty, it would help if an America absent of poverty already existed. We know that the socioeconomic status of students explains most of the variation in educational outcomes. Although there is evidence that some schools with many low-income students are academically successful, there is much more evidence that most schools do not overcome the barriers that stem from low income and low wealth. Health care, housing, stability, and a host of other out-of-school influences greatly affect a child’s academic achievement. Much of the achievement gap in test scores and much of the gap in graduation rates between racial and socioeconomic groups are due to opportunity gaps such as access to medical care, stable housing, and freedom from discrimination.” (Fifty Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools, pp. 230-231. The authors cite the research report documenting this conclusion.)

Why Money Matters and Why One Should Not Assume that Successful Programs in “High Achieving” School Districts Are Simply Transferable Best Practices

Ohio’s A-rated school districts on the state’s Performance Index are mostly located in wealthy exurbs. Ignoring the correlation between family and neighborhood economics, the Ohio Auditor’s report seems to suggest that if the state can only identify best practices in high-achieving school districts, these programs can simply be moved to low-achieving districts as a strategy for raising overall achievement as measured by test scores..

In Educational Inequality and School Finance: Why Money Matters for America’s Students, the nation’s best known expert on school finance, Bruce Baker explains, for example, that in a school where student poverty is concentrated, students will always benefit from the most basic—and sometimes very costly—investments. We don’t need the Ohio auditor to tell us what a rich exurban district is doing; instead the state simply needs to budget the needed dollars: “Reducing class size is often characterized as a particularly expensive use of additional school dollars… What we do know… is that ample research indicates that children in smaller classes achieved better outcomes, both academic and otherwise, and that class size reduction can be an effective strategy for closing racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.” (Educational Inequality and School Finance, pp. 98-99)

Baker reports that education costs more in schools serving poorer students or students with special needs: “(A) substantial body of research addresses how child poverty, limited English proficiency, unplanned family mobility, and school racial composition may influence the costs of achieving any given level of student outcomes. The various ways children are sorted across districts and schools create large differences in the costs of achieving comparable outcomes, as do changes in the overall demography of the student population over time. Rises in poverty, mobility due to housing disruptions, and the numbers of children not speaking English proficiently all lead to increases in the cost of achieving even the same level of outcomes achieved in prior years. This is not an excuse. it’s reality. It costs more to achieve the same outcomes with some students than with others.”(Educational Inequality and School Finance, pp. 198-199)

Ohio legislators, with expert guidance from educational leaders and school finance economists,  just spent over two years developing a new school funding plan. Howard Fleeter, an expert on Ohio school finance, criticized the plan 18 months ago when an early draft was released, because while the first draft addressed the reality that Ohio’s school funding has become increasingly inadequate through a decade of tax cuts, the new plan’s first draft did not invest enough in equity.

In a September 4, 2019 report, Fleeter explained: “National research indicates that economically disadvantaged students typically cost at least 30% more to educate than do non-disadvantaged students. However… Ohio’s current formula only provides additional funding at less than 20% of the base cost…. Funding is an even lower percentage in districts with less than 100% economically disadvantaged students.”  In an appendix to the same report, Fleeter adds that over the past decade, Ohio has systematically reduced funding for school districts serving concentrations of poor children:

  • “For much of the past 30+ years, funding for economically disadvantaged students has increased at a far slower rate than the foundation level. Even worse, poverty funding has actually decreased by 13% from FY09 to FY18.
  • “Since 2001, the rate of increase in the number of low income students has been nearly 3 times as great as the rate of increase in state funding for these students.
  • “Funding for economically disadvantaged students in Ohio has become significantly more structured and restricted in the past 15 years as funding has been focused on programs related to the additional needs of these students and away from unrestricted grants.
  • “There has never been an objective study to determine the adequate level of funding for the programs needed to serve economically disadvantaged students.
  • “The focus on funding programs for economically disadvantaged students has largely ignored the impact of poverty on the social and emotional needs of low income children. These issues need to be addressed alongside – and arguably before – the academic needs of these children.”

It is ironic that, right now, Ohio Auditor Keith Faber has been asked by the Ohio Department of Education to investigate “economy, efficiency, and/or effectiveness” of the distribution of school funding. After all, less than a month ago, the Ohio Legislature killed the proposed new school funding plan once it had been adjusted to meet Fleeter’s demand that the state would more equitably serve the needs of the school districts serving the state’s poorest students. The Ohio House of Representatives passed the new plan by an overwhelming margin, but the Ohio Senate killed the plan by refusing to vote on it before the session ended.  Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman claims that the Ohio Senate let the plan die because he estimates the plan would have cost $4 billion rather than the $2 billion the plan’s sponsors projected. And now the auditor has conveniently “discovered” that perhaps a school district’s level of expenditure doesn’t really affect student achievement after all.

I suspect that leaders of the Ohio Senate are beginning to lay out their case that we can simply get by by spending less money more efficiently. That’s nonsense. It is just the latest proof that the conservative Republican majority in the Ohio Senate lacks the will to invest in the school districts which serve Ohio’s poorest children.

Ohio’s Budget Bill Multiplies School Vouchers, Leaves Local School Districts in Crisis

On Tuesday afternoon, I went to a meeting of my monthly book discussion group—all of us retired and over 70.  But as we sat down with our coffee and before we discussed the book we had all been reading for the month, we found ourselves distracted by the topic that is tearing our community apart: the changes the Ohio Legislature made last summer in the fine print of the FY 20-21 state budget—changes that exploded the size of the state’s EdChoice school voucher program.

I wonder whether legislators have any real understanding of the collateral damage for particular communities from policies enacted without debate. Maybe, because our community has worked for fifty years to be a stable, racially and economically diverse community with emphasis on fair housing enforcement and integrated schools, legislators just write us off as another failed urban school district. After all, Ohio’s education policy emphasizes state takeover and privatization instead of equitable school funding. The state punishes instead of helping all but its most affluent, outer ring, exurban, “A”-rated school districts, where property values are high enough that state funding is not a worry.

What this year’s EdChoice voucher expansion means for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district where the members of my book discussion group all live is that—just to pay for the new vouchers—our school district has been forced to put a property tax levy on the March 17 primary election ballot. Ohio’s school finance expert, Howard Fleeter explains that in our school district, EdChoice voucher use has grown by 478 percent in a single year.  Fleeter continues: “Cleveland Heights isn’t losing any students…. They are just losing money.’” “If this doesn’t get unwound, I think it is significant enough in terms of the impact on the money schools get to undermine any new funding formula.”

Ohio deducts the price of the vouchers students carry to private and religious schools from the local school district budget even though, in the case of Cleveland Heights-University Heights this year, 94 percent of those students have never attended the public schools in our district. The state counts the voucher students who live in our community as though they are enrolled in our school district and then deducts the voucher from the local school budget, but the cost of each voucher is more than the state allocates per pupil.  In fact, in the current Ohio biennial FY20-21 state budget, state public education basic aid funding is frozen, which means our district actually gets no new state funding for each voucher student, but one hundred percent the cost of each voucher is deducted anyway.

Why are the people in my book group so upset about the voucher explosion and another levy on the ballot in March?  We are not a bunch of old ladies grousing about the burden of our taxes.  Two of us co-chaired a successful school levy campaign back in 1993; one person served on the board of education; and the rest were teachers in our school district. As we read the conversation threads on Next Door, where people are accusing our district of mismanaging funds, or paying teachers too much, or hiring too many school psychologists, we worry about all the undocumented misinformation floating around. Members of our group are anxious about our grandchildren and our neighbors’ children who depend on the public schools we have spent our lives supporting and protecting.  But it is difficult to explain what happened in the budget, our plight this winter set in motion last June and July in the budget conference committee, when amendments were added to the state budget without debate. It was done so quietly at the time that people across the state only began to grasp the impact later in August when the Ohio Association of School Business Officials alerted school treasurers about the potential impact.

Fortunately the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District sponsored a special public meeting on January 9, 2020, to explain the changes in the EdChoice Voucher Program and begin quelling the anxiety that is tearing our community apart. The school district has posted the powerpoint presentation from the meeting, and at the meeting,  the school district distributed a clear, factual brochure about the legislature’s changes in the EdChoice Vouchers.  The brochure explains: “(T)he program was expanded to the point of unsustainability. Ohio had fewer than 300 buildings deemed eligible for vouchers in 2018-2019; that number has exploded to 1,200 for 2020-2021. When the Ohio General Assembly passed its biennial budget in July 2019, it froze receipts at 2018-2019 levels. This means that for every new voucher used, none of the cost would be offset by state aid. Legislators also removed the provision that required students to attend a public school prior to using the voucher. Unable to prepare financially for the change, the District was forced the following month to negotiate one-year contracts with the teachers union, as opposed to multi-year contracts. In CH-UH, approximately 1,400 students, 94% of whom have never attended our K-12 public schools, are taking scholarships to attend private schools. This has amounted to an actual loss of $4.2 million for us last fiscal year and an estimated loss of $6.8 million this fiscal year.” Each time a student secures an EdChoice Voucher, that student can keep the voucher, paid for by the school district deduction, every year until the student graduates from high school.

The school district’s information handout continues: “The CH-UH City School District will ask the community for a new 7.9 mill operating levy in March. The current funding issues with EdChoice are the major reason for this millage. In fact, the District would not need to ask for a levy until 2023 if it weren’t for the way EdChoice was funded, and the millage would be significantly less.”

School districts across Ohio are demanding that the Legislature do something about what has become a crisis for many school districts. It is important that the Legislature act quickly, before the February EdChoice Voucher enrollment period for next school year. The Heights Coalition for Public Education, a community organization, has prepared a list of short-term voucher fixes which the Legislature should consider:

  1. “Remove budget language from House Bill 166 (the current state budget) expanding vouchers in grades 7-8 and for high schools.  Restore voucher language to pre-budget language.”
  2. Limit state report card ratings on which EdChoice schools are designated to 2017-18 and 2018-19.  Currently districts are held accountable all the way back to 2013-14, and considerable changes in school programming have occurred in the seven ensuing years.
  3. “Restore funding for school districts that have lost funds to voucher students who were not part of their 2019 Average Daily Enrollment.”
  4. “Cut the loss of funds for high poverty (50% economically disadvantage) districts at 5% and other school districts at 10%.”
  5. Adopt the funding methodology for EdChoice Expansion (another Ohio voucher program) which awards vouchers to needy students and pays for the vouchers fully with state funds (not the school district deduction).

State Senator Matt Huffman has long been among the Ohio Legislature’s strongest proponents of school vouchers.  Earlier this week, the Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell reported that Senator Huffman himself supports the fifth voucher fix listed above: “State Sen. Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, wants a bigger change. He is resurrecting his 2017 proposal to offer vouchers to any family in Ohio whose income falls under certain limits… His proposal would have the state, not districts, pay for the vouchers of $4,650 for grades K-8 and the $6,000 a year for high school. That would eliminate many district complaints that voucher costs are killing their budgets.  He said the state can control costs by limiting how many students can use vouchers in a given year. Some extra money is already available in the budget, he said. ‘That seems to be the only way, really, to do this in a fair way,’ he added.”

There is reason for caution here, even though Huffman’s assessment is correct that eliminating the school district deduction method for funding vouchers is the only fair way to address what has become an urgent crisis for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools and for many other Ohio school districts. We all remember Naomi Klein’s 2007 warning about the danger of adopting “shock doctrine,” privatization policies in a hurry in the midst of a crisis. We need to be sure that any so-called fix isn’t just an opportunity for the Legislature to grow the state’s voucher programs in some other way.  After all, in the case of Ohio’s current voucher mess, the Ohio Legislature itself created the crisis by expanding school privatization with explosive growth in the EdChoice school district deduction.

This blog has emphatically and consistently opposed private school tuition vouchers paid for with public funds, because vouchers undermine public funding for public education. Education privatization is never in the public interest.

However, currently in Ohio, an existential crisis for local school districts demands an immediate solution. The Legislature has saddled school districts with a school privatization program whose size the Legislature has no incentive to control because the money quietly washes out of local school district budgets. Neither can school districts control what is happening to their local budgets when the Legislature has set up an uncontrollable flow of dollars into the vouchers.

Huffman’s proposed solution would not solve the bigger problem of Ohio school vouchers. On the other hand, Huffman’s plan would pay for the vouchers out of the state budget, and as he points out, if it were to be so inclined, the Legislature could control costs by limiting how many students can use vouchers in a given year. Huffman’s idea would address the immediate school district financial crisis. It would then be up to all of us to pressure the Legislature to control the size and number of Ohio school vouchers awarded each year. Perhaps we can motivate a future legislature to eliminate vouchers entirely and return to a system where public dollars serve the mass of our children in the public schools.

If you are looking for the facts about Ohio’s EdChoice Vouchers, here are some resources:

You can watch the video of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District’s recent meeting (January 9, 2020) to explain the alarming, rising cost of EdChoice Vouchers for the school district due to changes in the FY 20-21 state budget passed last summer.

The Heights Coalition for Public Education has  created materials to explain the impact of EdChoice on the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School district. You can access them in a number of formats:  Slideshow (PDF); Slideshow (Powerpoint); Narration only for slideshow (PDF); Slides and narration (PDF); Video of slideshow with commentary (Youtube); and Handout for slideshow (PDF).

Ohio Senate Education Committee Blames Educators While Underfunding Schools in the State’s Poorest Communities

Members of the Ohio Senate Education Committee, who have been holding hearings on a new state school district takeover plan, continue to scapegoat the teachers and educational leaders in the school districts which serve concentrations of our state’s poorest children.

Despite a large body of research correlating standardized test scores with aggregate family and neighborhood income, Bill Phillis reports that twice last week at a hearing convened by the Senate Education Committee, one senator repeatedly asked: “How much time should we give those who drove the bus into the ditch to get it out?”  The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell quotes Senator Bill Coley, who mused: “I think its maybe the wrong people are running the show and we need to try something different.”

I guess these guys adhere to the old idea that if we were merely to exchange the staffs of the richest and the poorest school districts in the state, the challenges for students in poor communities would magically disappear.  Instead, research shows that economic segregation—where wealthy families are moving farther and farther into the exurbs—has been rapidly accelerating.  Our senators must imagine that public school educators can, on their own, swiftly erase the alarming and growing economic gap between children growing up in pockets of extreme privilege and children segregated in our most impoverished city neighborhoods or living in remote rural areas.

There is a lot of evidence, however, that Ohio’s state senators are mistaken when they blame schools and public school educators.  The state takeovers are based on a set of overly complex and opaque calculations that yield the  school district grades on a state report card.  This year’s state report card ratings were released just last week.  It is not surprising, given what is well known about the correlation of standardized test scores with family and community wealth, that nine of the top ten report card scorers in Ohio are wealthy suburbs of Ohio’s big cities: Solon, Rocky River, Chagrin Falls, Beachwood, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, and Bay Village—suburbs of Cleveland; Madeira and Indian Hill—suburbs of Cincinnati; and Ottawa Hills—a suburb of Toledo.

In fact, yesterday, the Plain Dealer‘s data wonk, Rich Exner published a stunning story on the correlation of Ohio’s report card grades with family income.  Here are his findings: “The latest set of Ohio school report cards not only provided a scorecard for each district statewide – they once again drove home the point that wealthier districts do better on such reports. For example, incomes in the “A” districts were three times higher than those in the “F” districts, and the child poverty rate was 13 times higher in the worst performing districts, cleveland.com found. To get an idea of how closely report card grades from the Ohio Department of Education follow demographic factors, cleveland.com compared those grades to U.S. Census Bureau community data for household income, child poverty and the education level of the adults. In nearly every key report card category, the trends followed census data closely. For example, taking the median household income for each district, the average among those getting “A” overall grades was $95,423. It was $65,307 for B-graded districts, $54,058 for C-graded districts, $44,428 for D-graded districts and $32,658 for F-graded districts. In the A districts, 58.5% of the adults age 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree. That share drops to 17.1% for D-graded districts and 16.3% for F-graded districts. There are outliers, of course. They will be highlighted in an upcoming story. But overall, the trends hold true.”

An enormous body of academic research confirms Exner’s finding that those who judge the quality of public schools by their standardized test scores fail to consider the enormous consequences of economic inequality and poverty. The problems have been exposed by research in a number of disciplines.

In an exhaustive book-long analysis in 2017, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, Daniel Koretz, the Harvard University expert on the design and use of standardized testing, demonstrates the many ways standardized-test-based-accountability distorts and undermines the educational process itself and the reasons why standardized tests are an inappropriate way to measure the quality of schools. Koretz explains that school districts serving primarily privileged students and school districts serving concentrations of poor children cannot be held to the same timelines for meeting specific standards: “One aspect of the great inequity of the American educational system is that disadvantaged kids tend to be clustered in the same schools. The causes are complex, but the result is simple: some schools have far lower average scores…. Therefore, if one requires that all students must hit the proficient target by a certain date, these low-scoring schools will face far more demanding targets for gains than other schools do. This was not an accidental byproduct of the notion that ‘all children can learn to a high level.’ It was a deliberate and prominent part of many of the test-based accountability reforms…. Unfortunately… it seems that no one asked for evidence that these ambitious targets for gains were realistic. The specific targets were often an automatic consequence of where the Proficient standard was placed and the length of time schools were given to bring all students to that standard, which are both arbitrary.” (pp. 129-130)

In Ohio, in a September 4, 2019 report, economist Howard Fleeter explains: “National research indicates that economically disadvantaged students typically cost at least 30% more to educate than do non-disadvantaged students. However… Ohio’s current formula only provides additional funding at less than 20% of the base cost…. Funding is an even lower percentage in districts with less than 100% economically disadvantaged students.”

In an appendix to the same report, Fleeter adds that over the past decade, Ohio has systematically underfunded the very school districts that Ohio’s state senators propose to try to address with governance changes through state takeover:

  • “For much of the past 30+ years, funding for economically disadvantaged students has increased at a far slower rate than the foundation level. Even worse, poverty funding has actually decreased by 13% from FY09 to FY18.
  • “Since 2001, the rate of increase in the number of low income students has been nearly 3 times as great as the rate of increase in state funding for these students.
  • “Funding for economically disadvantaged students in Ohio has become significantly more structured and restricted in the past 15 years as funding has been focused on programs related to the additional needs of these students and away from unrestricted grants.
  • “There has never been an objective study to determine the adequate level of funding for the programs needed to serve economically disadvantaged students.
  • “The focus on funding programs for economically disadvantaged students has largely ignored the impact of poverty on the social and emotional needs of low income children. These issues need to be addressed alongside – and arguably before – the academic needs of these children.”

The National Education Policy Center’s  Kevin Welner and researcher Julia Daniel summarize the research: “(W)e need to step back and confront an unpleasant truth about school improvement. A large body of research teaches us that the opportunity gaps that drive achievement gaps are mainly attributable to factors outside our schools: concentrated poverty, discrimination, disinvestment, and racially disparate access to a variety of resources and employment opportunities… Research finds that school itself has much less of an impact on student achievement than out-of-school factors such as poverty. While schools are important… policymakers repeatedly overestimate their capacity to overcome the deeply detrimental effects of poverty and racism…. But students in many of these communities are still rocked by housing insecurity, food insecurity, their parents’ employment insecurity, immigration anxieties, neighborhood violence and safety, and other hassles and dangers that can come with being a low-income person of color in today’s United States.”

What is the punitive state takeover plan currently being considered by the Ohio Senate Education Committee? The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell reports that the plan closely resembles the plan the committee failed to negotiate into the biennial budget passed in July.  O’Donnell writes: “The latest plan… is similar to plans floated by the Senate last spring, but which never won enough support to pass… The plan… eliminates the controversial ‘Academic Distress Commissions,’ and CEOs that take over for local school boards today after three years of failing grades on state report cards. In their place would be a new State Transformation Board that oversees improvement efforts across the state, and new School Improvement Commissions… for each district that does not improve. Those commissions would have many powers similar to the Academic Distress Commissions today.”  For example, the School Improvement Commissions would still have the power to overrule a school district’s elected board of education.  (Here is a detailed description of the School Transformation Plan the Senate proposed last spring.)

Last week, Ohio State Senators Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Tina Maharath (D-Columbus) formally called for an overhaul of the way the state calculates the report cards on which the state takeovers are based.  Fedor, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, explains: “There are serious flaws in the way we calculate districts’ grades… Report cards don’t reflect the quality of the education children receive nor the progress they make. The current measures are not meaningful for the purpose of assessing the district contribution to learning. They penalize large and high-poverty districts, which they threaten with state takeovers. The State recognizes the report card is flawed and depicts a false narrative for our communities and school districts. The legislature has the power to fix these mistakes, and we need to do that immediately.”  Fedor and Maharath explain: “The Progress grade, which represents 20 percent of a district’s total grade, is particularly unfair because the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) uses a formula to adjust for the district’s size that penalizes the grade of large school districts… If a district makes progress, but not as much as the average school district in the state, their grade will be low – not giving credit for actual percentage growth.”

The state report cards not only target the school districts serving very poor children with state takeover but they also feed racial and economic housing segregation by encouraging families to avoid poor and mixed income communities where the schools may be serving their students well despite overall lagging scores. The state report card grades are an example of state-sponsored educational redlining.

And like the legislators on the Senate Education Committee who blame teachers and school administrators for school districts’ aggregate test scores, the state report cards encourage the scapegoating of the dedicated educators who choose to serve the children living in Ohio’s poorest communities.

New Ohio Report: Cupp-Patterson Plan Creates Adequate School Funding but Must Be Corrected for Equity

Ohio’s legislature will soon hold hearings on a new, much touted, desperately needed, bipartisan school funding plan. The plan was developed and proposed by Rep. Robert Cupp (R) and Rep. John Patterson (D), and has now been formally introduced as House Bill 305.

Ohio’s current school funding formula is so dated and so badly underfunded that 503 of the state’s 610 school districts are currently either capped or on guarantee; they have been receiving from the state just what they got last year and the year before and the year before that.  The new Cupp-Patterson plan was designed to flip that situation and restore the awarding of formula-calculated funding to at least 510 districts.

The new formula was developed to establish a base cost per enrolled student, an amount which every district would receive through combined state and local funding. Everybody agrees that the new formula would begin to create an adequate funding floor.

But huge concerns have arisen since last spring when the formula was first announced. Once the computer runs were released to show how the new formula would treat each of the state’s 610 school districts, it became apparent that many of the state’s very poorest districts—especially poor urban districts with concentrated poverty and rural districts—would end up with meager funding increases, or, in some cases, no additional funding at all, while some of the state’s wealthiest exurban school districts would receive huge increases in state funding.

While the new Cupp-Patterson Plan produced an adequate school funding floor, it failed to achieve equity. Part of the reason is obvious: the outer ring suburbs are rapidly growing, and a higher per-pupil state funding system will add funding as students move to a school district. But until now, nobody has clearly explained what is causing the proposed formula to deny additional funding to the state’s poorest school districts—three of them currently being punished by autocratic state takeover, ten of them threatened with state takeover, and Cleveland under its own form of state supervision.

Last week, however, Howard Fleeter, an expert on Ohio school finance since the early 1990s, published a report for the Ohio Education Policy Institute to evaluate the proposed Cupp-Patterson formula.  In his new paper, Fleeter dissects the history and complexity of the state’s foundation formula along with the history and complexity of the way the state calculates categorical funding—the special funds the state awards to school districts in addition to basic aid for special services—special education, gifted, English learners, transportation, career-technical, and students in poverty.

Fleeter’s paper is extremely technical.  Even as a non-expert reads the new report, however, what becomes clear is that the very complexity of the calculations and the choice of particular factors has disadvantaged the state’s poorest school districts.

One Problem with the Foundation Base Cost Calculation

Any school funding formula is comprised of a state contribution and a local contribution which together add up to a base cost amount. The purpose of the formula is to deliver additional state aid to school districts whose fiscal capacity is lower. While he affirms much of the way the basic aid formula is calculated, Fleeter criticizes one area of the calculation. His concern is the way community median income is being used to calculate the local contribution to the formula. The proposed formula considers the size of the school district’s property tax base and also measures community income as a proxy for the community’s capacity to pass local operating levies.  The assumption here is that wealthier voters will more easily be able to afford to vote for tax levies.

The proposed formula measures income through a complicated calculation called local capacity percentage which is based on median income. Fleeter explains that the way the tiers are set fails entirely to distinguish high income from very poor communities. Fleeter provides an example: “Northern Local School District in Perry County has a median income of $41,826 while Orange City School District has a median income of $93,421 (more than twice as much), and yet both have the same local capacity percentage, which is clearly inequitable.”  The Northern Local School District in Perry County is the extremely poor rural school district where the DeRolph school funding equity lawsuit originated.  Orange City School District includes the very wealthiest communities in Cuyahoga County—greater Cleveland.

Problems with the Calculation of Categorical Funding

Fleeter also considers the mass of calculations which determine categorical funding levels, and he devotes much of his analysis to the way the proposed formula treats the school districts which serve a large number or a concentration of students living in poverty. Ohio’s current formula fails to support these districts even as the state punishes them with punitive measures—most notably state takeover.  Fleeter believes Ohio needs to assist these school districts with significant additional resources: “National research indicates that economically disadvantaged students typically cost at least 30% more to educate than do non-disadvantaged students. However… Ohio’s current formula only provides additional funding at less than 20% of the base cost…. Funding is an even lower percentage in districts with less than 100% economically disadvantaged students.”

In an appendix, Fleeter traces a history of state funding problems for school districts serving children in poverty: “The following points provide a summary of the main issues relating to funding for economically disadvantaged students in Ohio:

  • For much of the past 30+ years, funding for economically disadvantaged students has increased at a far slower rate than the foundation level. Even worse, poverty funding has actually decreased by 13% from FY09 to FY18.
  • Since 2001, the rate of increase in the number of low income students has been nearly 3 times as great as the rate of increase in state funding for these students.
  • Funding for economically disadvantaged students in Ohio has become significantly more structured and restricted in the past 15 years as funding has been focused on programs related to the additional needs of these students and away from unrestricted grants.
  • There has never been an objective study to determine the adequate level of funding for the programs needed to serve economically disadvantaged students.
  • The focus on funding programs for economically disadvantaged students has largely ignored the impact of poverty on the social and emotional needs of low income children. These issues need to be addressed alongside – and arguably before – the academic needs of these children.”

Fleeter examines several reasons why the new school funding plan does not solve the problem.

Historically, the state directed assistance to school districts serving very poor children with what was called Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid—later replaced after the DeRolph litigation with Targeted Assistance and Capacity Aid. In a series of calculations, Fleeter demonstrates that under the new Cupp-Patterson plan, the total of $987.3 million for these two programs, “would still be 20.3% below the actual FY 19 post-cap funding levels for Targeted Assistance and Capacity Aid.”

In the first place, the targeting of funding for disadvantaged students is part of the plan’s six-year phase in.  Over the period of the phase in, school districts would not receive all of the money until the whole plan were fully phased in. “Additionally, the state average base cost amount would increase to $7,190 in FY 20 under the Cupp-Patterson plan. Thus, the per-pupil amount of economically disadvantaged funding received in FY 20, even if there were no phase-in, would only be 25.6% of the new base cost.”

Problems with the proposed formula also derive from the way it counts students for Targeted Assistance. The plan uses overall enrollment instead of Average Daily Membership to calculate Targeted Assistance. (Overall enrollment counts students in charter schools and students receiving vouchers.)  The substitution of overall enrollment for ADM affects the mathematical calculation, making urban districts look wealthier than they actually are. Changing the method of counting students deprives school districts of millions of dollars annually.  For example, Cleveland would lose $27.6 million from the amount of Targeted Assistance it currently receives; Columbus, $27.1 million; Dayton, $21.0 million; Toledo, 19.1 million; Youngstown, $13.54 million; Cincinnati, $11.4 million; Lorain City, 10.1 million; Euclid, $4.7 million; Lima, $4.0 million; and Mansfield, $3.0 million.

Fleeter comments “When providing testimony in support of their plan, members of the Cupp-Patterson work group explained the above outcomes by saying that the number of students educated in the district is in fact the more appropriate measure for determining wealth than is the number of students who live in the district. While this is certainly true for the calculation of an input-based base cost measure, it is less clear for a measure that is designed explicitly to help less wealthy districts keep pace with their wealthier neighbors in providing educational opportunities for their students. Moreover, regardless of the theoretical merits of one student count versus another for making a per-pupil wealth calculation, the funding impact was clearly that high poverty urban districts lost so much revenue from Targeted Assistance under the initial Cupp-Patterson proposal that most of them ended up on the guarantee or with much smaller revenue increases than did the wealthier districts in the state.”

Again and again, Fleeter emphasizes the urgent need for the state to address the needs of school districts serving concentrations of poor children. He castigates legislators for proposing a formal study of the needs of students in these school districts but failing to fund such an investigation: “Finally, HB 305 would direct the state to undertake a study of the true cost of educating economically disadvantaged students in Ohio. Such a study has never been undertaken in Ohio. The final version of the FY 20-21 state budget did include a provision directing the Ohio Department of Education to oversee such a study; however, no funding was earmarked for this purpose. The state needs to be encouraged to find a way to fund and complete these studies in the FY 20-21 biennium.”

It Looks As Though Proposed Ohio School Funding Overhaul May Have to Wait Two More Years

There was a sense of hope on March 25th, when Ohio State Representatives Bob Cupp and John Patterson proposed a new, bipartisan school funding plan for Ohio, a plan that was intended to serve as the House’s education proposal for the 2020-2021 biennial budget, which must be passed by June 30.  We owe these two legislators enormous thanks for overcoming partisan rancor and setting out to try to address school funding injustice in our state.

Under a patched together mess of additions to old formulas, Ohio’s school districts have suffered for years from state funding that hasn’t met the state’s constitutional obligation. The problem has become more serious as state revenue for schools has declined. Following the Great Recession a decade ago, Governor John Kasich and his all-Republican legislature continued the phase out of local business taxes, eliminated the state estate tax and reduced state income taxes. In a state where all tax increases are required by law to be voted, school districts have been forced to ask their residents to increase local property taxes and at the same time to cut programming.  Just as school teachers have been striking all year across other states to highlight outrageous problems with large classes and shortages of counselors, social workers, nurses and librarians, Ohio’s students and teachers have been experiencing the same funding inadequacies.

The proposed Cupp-Patterson Plan was supposed to fund schools adequately—according to a calculation of what it actually costs to provide required services.  It was supposed to be stable without the kind of quirks and changes Ohio school districts have noticed recently in their state funding.  And it was supposed to be equitable by considering not only a district’s property valuation but also the community’s aggregate income in calculating what Ohio calls the local chargeoff—the calculation of what a school district has the capacity to generate in local taxes. Currently in Ohio, 503 of the state’s 610 school districts are on guarantee; they have been getting from the state just what they got last year and the year before and the year before that.  The new Cupp-Patterson plan was designed to flip that situation and restore the awarding of formula-calculated funding to at least 510 districts.

The only problem was, once the computer runs for the state’s 610 school districts were released, it became apparent that many of the state’s very poorest districts, especially poor urban districts with concentrated poverty, ended up with zero new funding—at the same level where they were last year.

This past weekend, the Speaker of the Ohio House, Larry Householder told the Columbus Dispatch that the new plan probably cannot be adjusted quickly enough to be part of Ohio’s 2020-2021 biennial budget:  “I think Cupp-Patterson needs a lot more work… I don’t think it can be done in the time frame for this budget.”

The Columbus Dispatch‘s Jim Siegel explains the problems with the plan and Householder’s concerns: “Over two years, the plan would mean a $280 increase per pupil on average for districts with student poverty rates of at least 60 percent.  Meanwhile, the increase is $392 per pupil for districts with poverty concentration of less than 15 percent.  Several urban districts get little or no additional money.  For Householder, that means more new money for districts that, thanks to local tax revenue, are already funded at an ‘excellent level,’ while less is going to schools where kids have ‘tons of disadvantages.’ That, he said, compounds a revenue imbalance that already exists between poor and wealthy districts. ‘It’s going to create a funding system that’s going to bring a greater amount of inequity between school districts… And there’s no way that it doesn’t.'”

For a fascinating analysis of the complexities that must be addressed by any Ohio school funding plan, I encourage readers of this blog to listen to Jim Siegel’s podcast from last Thursday: Why Is School Funding Still Broken? Siegel talks with two people who bring very different experiences to the conversation. Howard Fleeter, Ohio’s school funding expert has been tracking and advising the legislature about Ohio school finance since 1991.  Julie Wagner Feasel is a member of the school board in Olentangy, a suburban school district just north of Columbus and the fastest growing school district in the state in terms of families moving in.

We learn from Julie Wagner Feasel that even the state’s wealthiest school districts—as measured by property valuation and family income—have been ill-served by our current formula. Olentangy is a wealthy suburban district that for several years has been receiving less state funding than the amount the state awards to private schools for auxiliary services.  Between 2009 and 2014, Olentangy gained 6,000 students at a time when the formula was frozen and the district was on guarantee.  Between 2014 and 2019, the district has been under a “gain cap,” freezing the district’s state funding as it gained another 4,000 or 5,000 students.  Under the proposed Cupp-Patterson formula, which awards what the district needs as measured by its rapid growth, Olntangy will get a significant boost just because its state revenue has been frozen for over a decade.

In the podcast, Howard Fleeter defends the needs of the state’s poorest school districts, those which have lost population but still need additional funds to address the barriers that confront the school districts serving the state’s poorest students. Fleeter suggests that districts serving a high concentration of student poverty need a third more revenue per pupil.  Fleeter disputes Wagner Feasel’s worry that more money would just be absorbed by teachers’ salaries: “Putting resources into classrooms is important. There is important value in teaching, and with salaries, you get what you pay for. To attract good teachers and keep them, you must pay them well… Stability in staff makes a successful school.”

Fleeter also explains why it is enormously complicated to create a state school funding formula that addresses the needs of all 610 of Ohio’s school districts.  We have more big cities than any state except California or Texas—Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, and then a bit smaller—Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown, and then a couple of tiers slightly smaller but still big cities.  We have rural Appalachian poverty and then a whole different rural economy on the west side of the state. Then there are the growing outer suburbs and the inner suburbs that are more urban.  How do we calculate equity and adequacy across this array of very legitimate needs?

In his report on the plan’s likely delay, Siegel quotes Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder commenting on the complexity of the problem: “If all we had to do was worry about poor, rural school districts, we could fix that in a heartbeat… But we’ve got everything under the sun in Ohio.”

It will perhaps take another biennial budget cycle before Ohio can create the political will to pass a truly equitable new school funding plan.  In the meantime, however, the Cupp-Patterson plan addresses one concern that could and should be resolved in a stand-alone bill. Ohio has been operating for years with a punitive accountability system beginning with the state report cards that brand the poorest school district with low grades, the third-grade guarantee, the location of charter schools and the EdChoice voucher eligibility in what the state consider academically distressed (low-scoring) school zones and districts, and finally the state takeovers that are currently being seriously challenged in other stand-alone bills.

The Cupp-Patterson Plan proposes to substitute full state funding of school privatization—vouchers and charter schools—for what is now a school district deduction plan.  While today, the child who secures a voucher or leaves for a charter is counted in a school district’s Average Daily Membership, and then carries the voucher or charter amount out of the school district’s budget, in the Cupp-Patterson Plan the state would fully fund the cost of these privatization schemes. In a number of school districts today, the child carries away more in the school district charter school or voucher deduction than the state’s per-pupil funding to that district. Because standardized test scores correlate, in the aggregate, with family and neighborhood economics, the current plan punishes the state’s poorest school districts by locating voucher and charter eligibility in those districts and then extracting the funding for the vouchers and charters from their local budgets. The current plan exacerbates inequity by further reducing the school district budgets in already poor school districts.

The state should not wait two years to address this inequity in the next budget. If the legislature is going to privatize education, the full expense should fall on the state budget and not on the already meager budgets of the state’s poorest school districts.