New Statewide Campaign Pressures Ohio Senate to Pass School Funding Reform in FY22-23 State Budget

On Wednesday, four key organizations announced ALL in for Ohio Kids, a statewide campaign to demand that the Ohio Senate will pass a major a new school funding formula as part of the FY 2022-23 state budget.

The new coalition brings together four organizations: the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, representing public school teachers; the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, pulling together public school parents and community members; and Policy Matters Ohio, adding the weight of complex policy expertise.

A new school funding plan, developed over several years, was passed on April 21st by the Ohio House of Representatives as part of the FY 2022-2023 state budget and submitted to the Ohio Senate. The Ohio Legislature must, by law, come up with a compromise by June 30.

With Ohio’s Republican supermajority House and Senate, you might suppose that members of the Ohio Senate would simply affirm the proposal forwarded by their colleagues in the House. You would be wrong. While the plan was originally sponsored by and developed under the guidance of House Speaker Bob Cupp and passed by the Ohio House in a stand alone bill in December by a vote of 87-9, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Matt Dolan refused to bring the House bill forward for a vote by the full Senate. Therefore, the bill died at the end of the FY 20-21 legislative session.

The New All In for Ohio Kids Campaign and Policy Matters’ Wendy Patton Release Major Report

Outlining Ohio’s urgent need for the Fair School Funding Plan, Policy Matters’ state fiscal expert Wendy Patton released a position paper as part of the launch of the All in for Ohio Kids Campaign: “For many years Ohio lawmakers have provided neither sufficient nor fair distribution of state support. 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.”

Patton outlines what has happened to the state’s level of investment in public schools: “On average, local governments paid for the greater part of school funding in each of the last 40 years but three, 1987-1989. At times, the gap narrowed between state and local share, but the 2006-07 budget halted that progress by eliminating major business taxes and phasing in big state income tax cuts. Gov. Ted. Strickland made positive steps using federal stimulus…. 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.  Lawmakers…. also changed the formula for granting state aid four times over the past dozen years. Uncertainty in state aid makes planning and staffing hard for districts.”

Although the Ohio Constitution requires the state to establish a “thorough and efficient system” of public schools, and despite that the 1997 Ohio Supreme Court declared the state’s school funding unconstitutional and overly reliant on local property taxes—a decision whose demands have never been met, Patton describes the state’s funding of public education today as “a system of Band-Aids and patches”: “Today there is little connection between the funding of Ohio’s schools and the cost of educating a student: Formula funding is simply frozen at 2019 levels. Lawmakers provided no increase to cover the effect of inflation and the rising cost of education since then. According to projections used in the governor’s budget, between 2019 and 2023, state formula funding for public education will lose over $600 million in value as a result of inflation.”

Patton castigates the legislature for diverting an ever growing amount of state education dollars to charter schools and private school tuition vouchers at the same time Ohio’s legislators have failed to fund the public schools which serve 1.6 million Ohio students. Funding for charter schools is by school district deduction, which counts the student as though enrolled in the public school district, sends the state’s basic aid school funding amount to the public district, but then deducts from the local school district budget the state’s allocation for each charter school student. In many cases, the state charter school deduction from the school district’s budget is significantly more than the district receives in basic aid for that same student.  Patton provides an example: “Columbus received $4,815 per student in the 2018-19 school year in state formula funding, but the district had to provide an average of $8,305 per student in the 2018-19 school year to students at charter schools. In other words, for every charter student, Columbus must provide $3,489 more than it receives from the state.”

One of the state’s voucher programs, EdChoice, works the same way. The state sends the school district’s basic aid amount but then deducts $4,650 for every K-8 voucher and $6,000 for every high school student voucher. And because EdChoice voucher qualification rules limit the vouchers only to students living in the attendance area of a school designated by the federal government for Title I, school district deduction EdChoice vouchers are concentrated in areas of family poverty. Here is Patton’s explanation: “The use of vouchers is heavily concentrated in a limited number of districts. Fifteen of the 31 districts that transferred 10% or more of their total state aid to vouchers are located in Cuyahoga County.”  Cuyahoga County, an urban county with significant child poverty, includes Cleveland, to which the state has assigned its own voucher program, and several inner-ring suburbs with concentrations of children from poor families who qualify for the EdChoice Program. The irony in the majority of these school districts is that students taking vouchers out of the public system are students who have never been enrolled in public schools. Students already enrolled in private and religious schools are extracting state dollars out of public school districts serving concentrations of poor students, districts where more money is desperately needed for the students who are enrolled.

Patton concludes:  The Fair School Funding Plan is based on the actual cost of education….  When fully funded, it would help nearly all public schools by boosting the average state per-pupil aid from $6,835 to $8,459…. A predictable formula would create stability and certainty in planning and hiring… The funding for economically disadvantaged students would increase from $272 to $422 per student…. This will help students experiencing poverty and give needed resources to schools that serve communities where poverty is concentrated.” She adds: “The Fair School Funding Plan… would separate charter and voucher funding from the state’s formula funding system… Charter and voucher programs would… be funded through a separate line item in the state budget.”

What Is Holding Up Support for the Fair School Funding Plan in the Ohio Senate When Public Schools Are Desperately in Need?

Here is the problem: Senate President Matt Huffman’s 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.”  And the Ohio Coalition for Adequacy and Equity of School Funding quotes Senate Finance Committee Chairman Matt Dolan: “Where a child gets educated is not as important to us as: ‘The child gets educated.'” Huffman and Dolan are committed to marketplace school choice at public expense; neither is committed to public education as one of our most essential community institutions and our mutual obligation to our children.

The All In for Ohio Kids Campaign is all about calling members of the Ohio Senate to uphold the state’s constitutional mandate for adequate public school funding, distributed equitably according to need and considering each school district’s capacity to raise local school taxes. The Ohio Constitution does not provide for diverting public dollars to privately operated charter schools or, as tuition vouchers, to pay for private schooling.

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.

Will the State Senate Punish Ohio’s 1.6 Million Public School Students by Letting School Funding Reform Die?

The Ohio House Finance Committee voted unanimously (32-0) on Wednesday to refer Substitute House Bill 305, the proposal for a new Fair School Funding Formula, to the full Ohio House for approval. And late yesterday afternoon, the Ohio House of Representatives passed the bill by huge margin: 84-8.

The Ohio Senate, however, is dragging its feet on Senate Bill 376, the companion bill. Plain Dealer reporter Laura Hancock quotes Senator Matt Dolan, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, hinting that he will not bring SB 376 to for a vote by his committee:  “I remain hesitant to pass this… There are still studies that need to be done. I think it’s going to be difficult to pass this out, out of the context of a state budget.”  Senator Dolan has said that he doesn’t want to enact a plan that will eventually cost a lot of money without having the money up front.

The authors of the new school funding plan know the legislature currently lacks the money to pay for the plan’s full implementation, which is why they prescribe a six-year phase in. The authors describe it as a blueprint for an equitable and adequate system.

I don’t know anybody other than Senator Matt Dolan—and likely Senator Matt Huffman, the incoming Senate President—who believes more studies are needed before we know how the plan is designed to work. Representatives Bob Cupp and John Patterson built the plan upon at least three years of study by experts. The House has held a number of hearings since the the plan was originally introduced in the spring of 2019 and incorporated further adjustments to enhance the equity of the plan.

The clearest explanation I’ve seen is in Howard Fleeter’s testimony, presented to the House Finance Committee at the committee’s final hearing on Substitute HB 305 on December 2.  (You can find Dr. Fleeter’s testimony near the end of the list of submitted testimony, third from the bottom.) Better than anyone else, Fleeter grasps the nuances of Ohio school finance. Here are Fleeter’s credentials as he presents them to the Finance Committee in his testimony: “I have a PhD in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, I spent 10 years as a Public Policy professor at The Ohio State University, and I have been researching school funding and education policy in Ohio for nearly 30 years. My career working with Ohio policymakers began when Governor Voinovich commissioned me to write my report, ‘Equity, Adequacy and Reliability in Ohio Education Finance,’ which I completed in November, 1992.”

Because the proposed Fair School Funding Plan is complicated and press reports have sometimes been confusing, I will quote extensively from Dr. Fleeter’s recent testimony.

Fleeter begins by explaining that Ohio needs a new school funding formula because for the past decade the state has lacked a working school funding plan: “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 is explaining is that from FY 14 to FY 19, 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.

Fleeter continues by explaining that between FY14 and FY19, a State Share Index, “the principle driver of equity in the state funding formula… was both inadequate and inequitable.”  Fleeter explains that the flaws in the formula left the vast majority of the state’s school districts on hold harmless guarantees (last year’s funding) or capped (last year’s funding) no matter what might have changed in their enrollment or the demonstrated funding needs of their student populations. Fleeter continues: “This problem has been made worse in the past 2 years as the FY20 and FY21 state aid formula has been frozen at FY19 levels.

Then there is the injustice in the way Ohio funds vouchers and charter schools through something called “the school district deduction.”  Fleeter believes the way Ohio funds school privatization is such a serious problem that it threatens the adequacy and equity of the entire school funding system: “Finally, the ‘deduction’ method used to fund Ohio’s community (charter) schools along with the EdChoice, Jon Peterson (for students with disabilities), and Autism voucher programs has also significantly undermined the adequacy and equity of school funding in Ohio by effectively deducting (from school districts’ local budgets) a ‘local share’ of funding because the deduction amount is greater than the state aid provides when these students are counted in a district’s formula ADM (Average Daily Membership).  This problem has also been made worse in the current FY20-FY21 biennium because the funding formula has been frozen at FY 19 levels while the community (charter) school and voucher deductions have been allowed to increase, meaning that all funding for new community (charter) school and voucher students in the past 2 years has effectively come from local revenue.”

Fleeter endorses the proposed Fair School Funding Plan because it measures the actual cost of educational services as the way to calculate the state and local contributions to school funding;  because the state would directly pay charter and voucher expenses to the school where each student is enrolled (eliminating school district deductions);  because the new plan “increases funding for economically disadvantaged students”;  because the new plan more accurately measures each local school district’s capacity to raise local tax revenue;  and because the new formula provides continuing Targeted Assistance and Capacity Aid to help lower wealth school districts provide the kind of enriched curricular opportunities for their students that wealthy districts provide as a matter of course.

Fleeter makes an extremely well informed, nuanced, and convincing argument for immediate passage of the new plan. He accepts the fact that it would be an improvement the state would live into during the six-year phase-in the plan’s authors envision.

So… why is the Ohio Senate dragging its feet?

First, Senator Louis Blessing has released an analysis that the plan will cost $3.5 billion when fully implemented, when its sponsors project the total cost at $2 billion. Fleeter devotes two pages of testimony to disproving Blessing’s analysis and explains: “My analysis concludes that the Senate’s assertions betray fundamental misunderstandings of the role played by the state aid formula and their cost estimates are wildly exaggerated, and in some cases simply incorrect.”

It is sadly true that Ohio is so broke that the new plan, if passed, cannot be fully funded in the biennial budget which will take effect on July 1, 2021. Because the state lacks the money, sponsors of the Fair School Funding Plan anticipate a phase-in over the next three biennial budgets.  Further budget cuts due to the current recession caused by COVID-19 shutdowns will complicate the phase-in; a $2 billion shortage in the current fiscal year has already been predicted.

I believe, however, that Dolan’s professed worries about the Fair Funding Plan’s expense cover something more sinister.  I suspect that powerful members of the Ohio Senate prize increasing the privatization of education; perhaps they don’t really worry about inadequate and inequitably distributed public school funding.

Senator Matt Dolan, chair of the Senate Finance Committee has used the excuse that there is no time to hold enough hearings before the end of the legislative session on December 31, when the bill will die if it is not passed by the Ohio Senate.  Senator Peggy Lehner, the Republican Education Committee chair, and Democratic Senator Vernon Sykes introduced SB 376—the companion bill to Substitute HB 305—on November 9.  At hearings on November 18 and December 1, the Senate Finance Committee heard testimony invited by the bill’s sponsors. So far Dolan has held no open open hearings to receive public testimony.

Senator Dolan’s inaction is surely being influenced by the incoming Ohio Senate President, Senator Matt Huffman, who has proven that he doesn’t worry about holding open hearings and doing adequate research before he pushes through his own priorities. For example, Huffman just rushed through—in two days without a public hearing—a massive revision of Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program. Ohio Capital Journal‘s Susan Tebben explains what happened suddenly on November 18, 2020: “After months of public silence, the EdChoice private school voucher program reappeared at Wednesday’s Ohio Senate session… State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, brought back Senate Bill 89, completely changed from its last appearance in the chamber, when it mainly focused on career centers… The bill passed with 23 affirmative votes, and eight negative votes.” The bill, now a redesign of the state’s EdChoice vouchers, went immediately to the Ohio House and without further discussion, the Ohio House passed the bill on November 19.  The Governor has signed it.

Despite the need for a comprehensive, working school funding formula, and despite enthusiastic support in the Ohio House, powerful forces in the Ohio Senate appear to be trying to kill the proposed Ohio Fair School Funding Plan by allowing it to languish until the end of the session.

Senator Dolan says it can’t be passed without attached funding, and says its components must, therefore, be part of the budget bill the Legislature will take up in the spring. I fear that Senators Dolan and Huffman will perhaps include some of the plan’s parts in the next biennial budget.  We know, however, that Ohio does not have enough revenue to implement the whole plan without a phase-in.  And we know that breaking a comprehensive plan into bits and pieces will undermine the adequacy and equity balanced together by experts in the comprehensive Fair School Funding Plan. The Fair School Funding Plan’s sponsors openly call it a blueprint to be phased in, but they emphasize that to work, the plan must be passed as a comprehensive whole.

If the Ohio Senate sits on this bill until it dies on December 31, it will be a tragedy for Ohio’s children. The Legislature needs to pass the new funding plan and the state needs to begin to fund the plan’s systematic phase in.

Schools Serving Very Poor Children Need Financial Assistance. Instead Ohio Beats Them Up.

Ohio operates a test-and-punish accountability scheme that ranks and rates schools and school districts, and punishes school districts whose scores are low.  All the while, the state has diminished its effort to support public education and equalize funding.

In mid-September, for example, the state released school report cards awarding schools and school districts letter grades—“A” through “F.”  Like two other districts recently taken over by the state after receiving a series of “F” grades, East Cleveland will be seized by the state and assigned a state-appointed overseer CEO to replace its school superintendent and an appointed commission to replace the local school board.  East Cleveland—an economically and racially segregated inner-ring Cleveland suburban school district—is among Ohio’s very poorest.  Historically the residents in the community have voted high millage relative to their incomes to pay for their public schools despite the closure of local industry and the collapse of the economy.  The school districts in two other impoverished communities, Youngstown and Lorain, were taken over in recent years without a subsequent rise in test scores, the state’s chosen metric. Both received “F” grades again this year. The implementation of state takeover has been insensitive and insulting. Ohio’s Plunderbund reported in March that Krish Mohip, the state overseer CEO in Youngstown, feels he cannot safely move his family to the community where he is in charge of the public schools. He has also been openly interviewing for other jobs. Lorain’s CEO, David Hardy tried to donate the amount of what would be the property taxes on a Lorain house to the school district, when he announced that he does not intend to bring his family to live in Lorain.

EdChoice vouchers are a second high stakes punishment in the school attendance zones of “F”-rated schools. EdChoice gives families the opportunity to opt their children out of “failing” public schools by granting their children a chance to leave at public expense.  Writing for the Heights Observer, Susan Kaeser describes how this works in another Cleveland inner-ring suburban school district: “Access to EdChoice vouchers is tied to Ohio’s deeply flawed education accountability system.  If the aggregate test score data for an individual public school falls short, the school is defined as an EdChoice school.  Anyone residing in the attendance area of that school who could have attended that school is eligible for an EdChoice voucher… Nearly every district that has EdChoice designation serves many high-need students.”

Most students using EdChoice vouchers in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District which Kaeser describes are attending religious schools, and in fact real estate companies have been marketing houses in the state-designated neighborhoods as qualifying for EdChoice vouchers. Children can qualify for one of these vouchers as Kindergartners, without ever attending or intending to enroll in the public school that anchors the neighborhood. As Kaeser explains, “Once a student receives a voucher it can be renewed until the student graduates… Voucher use has grown exponentially as more schools were designated EdChoice and as recipients renew their vouchers.  This year, 176 Kindergarten students received first-time vouchers (without previously enrolling in a public school), adding to the total of more than 650 recipients.  The expected loss to the CH-UH district this year from EdChoice is $3.7 million….”  The rapid expansion of this program is fiscally unsustainable.

In a paywalled, September 14, 2018, On The Money report, a legislative update from the Hannah News Service, the Ohio Education Policy Institute school finance expert, Howard Fleeter tracks the impact statewide of Ohio’s EdChoice vouchers. Over the ten years since the program’s inception, it has grown from 3,100 to 22,153 students.  Fleeter explains: “EdChoice vouchers are worth up to $4,650 for students in grades K-8 and up to $6,000 for students in grades 9-12.”  He continues, explaining that while the money ostensibly comes from the state, EdChoice is “funded through a ‘district deduction’ system… The deduction system means that the voucher student is counted in the district of residence’s Formula ADM (Average Daily Membership) and then the voucher is paid for by deducting the voucher amount from the district’s state aid.  This can often result in a district seeing a deduction for the voucher greater than the state aid that was received for that student, meaning that the district is in effect subsidizing the voucher program.”  While in FY 2007, $10,368,839 was spent statewide for EdChoice vouchers.  By FY 2017, the amount statewide had climbed to $102,688,259.  Over the decade, a total of $649,158,483 of state and local tax dollars was diverted from public schools to private school tuition through EdChoice vouchers.

All of Ohio’s school districts where students qualify for EdChoice vouchers are districts serving very poor children. And yet, last month in a new report Howard Fleeter explains: “(R)esidential taxpayers in the low wealth districts are paying taxes at nearly the same rate as are their higher wealth counterparts… The Tax Effort measure shows that when ability to pay is taken into account, the low wealth districts are levying taxes at the highest rate relative to their income, while the highest wealth districts are levying taxes at the lowest rate relative to income.”  Fleeter continues: “(T)he lowest wealth… districts have seen their share of total state and local resources fall from 26.4% in FY99 to 23.1% in FY19, while the highest wealth… school districts have seen their share of total state and local resources increase from 22.2% in FY99 to 23.4% in FY19.  Unsurprisingly… a variety of equity measures indicate that equity in state and local school operating revenues improved from FY99 to FY 09, but regressed somewhat from FY09 to FY19.”

When he was interviewed by Jim Siegel for the Columbus Dispatch, Fleeter was less technical and more candid about the state’s school funding formula: “The formula itself is kind of just spraying money in a not-very-targeted way.”

Siegel reminds readers about the impact of the 2008 Great Recession, compounded by state tax cuts promoted by Governor John Kasich and passed by the legislature: “GOP leaders… eliminated the tangible personal property tax, which more than a decade ago generated about $1.1 billion per year for schools.  For a time, state officials reimbursed schools for those losses, but that has largely been phased out… And finally, there are Gov. John Kasich’s funding formula and fiscal priorities, including income-tax cuts that have meant an estimated $3 billion less in available revenue each year… Kasich crafted a new formula designed to drive funding to districts with the least ability to raise their own local funds, but Fleeter and public education officials have argued that it doesn’t quite work properly.”

Through various schemes to privatize education—EdChoice and several other voucher programs along with a large charter school sector—Governor Kasich and the Republican legislature have found another method, in addition to the flawed school funding formula, to divert needed state dollars out of public schools across the state.  State takeovers of struggling school districts and EdChoice vouchers are the clearest examples in state policy of punitive, top down programs that blame and punish local educators in poor communities instead of driving resources and support to communities serving concentrations of children in poverty.

Once again, it is appropriate to quote Harvard’s Daniel Koretz explaining in The Testing Charade just how high stakes, test-based accountability blames and punishes schools that face the overwhelming challenge of student poverty:  “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—and, particularly important in this system, more kids who aren’t ‘proficient’—than others. 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)

Ohio School Funding Falls Below Inflation Over Past Decade, Funding Gaps Remain Between Rich and Poor

It is a reality across America that when state and local school revenues are combined, the school districts serving our society’s wealthiest children continue to have the most money to spend on teachers and curriculum and enrichment while the school districts serving our poorest children have the least resources.  It has also been confirmed again and again that when poverty is concentrated—that is when a high percentage of children in a school are very poor—the school’s financial needs are much greater.

Surely it should not surprise us, then, that in a new report, Howard Fleeter, an economist and school funding analyst at the Ohio Education Policy Institute, demonstrates that in Ohio, in the twenty years since the Ohio Supreme Court found Ohio’s school funding unconstitutional and Ohio revised its funding formula, more money continues to be invested in the education of students in wealthy suburbs than in poorer rural and urban schools. Fleeter begins the report with a bit of background: “After the first Supreme Court ruling in the DeRolph lawsuit on March 24, 1997, a state panel was assembled to review and revise Ohio’s school funding formula.  FY1999 was the first year that new formula was implemented.”

Fleeter examines funding in 604 of the state’s school districts by separating Ohio’s school districts into quintiles based on the local property tax base in each district.  He finds that over two decades, revenue has increased for all Ohio school districts, but the nuances are far more complicated: “First, there is a pronounced trend in each of the two 10-year periods after DeRolph showing that the largest increases in local revenues were in the wealthiest school districts, while the smallest increases were in the poorest school districts… Second, there is a very stark difference in the pattern of state aid from FY99 to FY09 vs. that from FY09 to FY19. From FY99 to FY09 the inflation adjusted state average increase in per pupil state resources was $870 per pupil, while there was a -$64 pupil inflation-adjusted decrease in state resources per pupil during the FY09 to FY19 time frame… Finally,, in terms of total state and local resources… the first 10 years after the DeRolph ruling was responsible for the bulk of the increase in total resources apparent since FY99.”

Covering Fleeter’s new report, the Columbus Dispatch‘s Jim Siegel explains why state funding increased in the first decade after the decision and then dropped in the most recent decade after the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009.  State policies over the decade have further intensified what the recession began: “GOP leaders also eliminated the tangible personal property tax, which more than a decade ago generated about $1.1 billion per year for schools. For a time, state officials reimbursed schools for those losses, but that has largely been phased out…. And finally, there are Gov. John Kasich’s funding formula and fiscal priorities, including income-tax cuts that have meant an estimated $3 billion less in available revenue each year.”

Siegel quotes Fleeter in an interview about the new report: “Clearly, he (Gov. Kasich) has prioritized reducing the income tax and has done that at every possibility. Those revenues, if we had them, would go a long way toward making (the numbers) look different.”  Fleeter also tells Siegel that Governor Kasich’s school funding formula has made funding less equitable: “The formula itself is kind of just spraying money in a not-very-targeted way.”

And the problem isn’t that poor local school districts are failing to try to pass their local levies and do their part locally.  Fleeter’s report explores the role of local tax effort across school districts: “(T)he wealthiest school districts… have the lowest tax effort… and the poorest school districts in Ohio… have the second highest tax effort…. The Tax Effort measure shows that when ability to pay is taken into account, the low wealth districts are levying taxes at the highest rate relative to their income, while the highest wealth districts are levying taxes at the lowest rate relative to income.”

For Ohio Statehouse News Jason Aubrey also interviews Fleeter about the new report and the problem of Ohio’s continuing over reliance on local property taxes. Fleeter tells Aubrey: “The poor districts, no matter how hard they try to get their voters to support levies, just can’t raise enough money.”  Aubrey demonstrates Fleeter’s analysis with an example from Franklin County: “Let’s say a low wealth district like Hamilton Local School District in Franklin County were to ask voters to pass a 1 mill levy.  Even if they did, the levy would not bring in as much money as if a high wealth district like Upper Arlington City Schools were to ask its voters to pass a 1 mill levy.  That’s because the property values are different in both areas.”

Fleeter’s new report concludes: “(W)hile state & local revenues have increased for all wealth quintiles, the lowest wealth districts still have lower total revenues per pupil than do the highest wealth districts… This is an indication that the funding gap between low wealth and high wealth districts has not been narrowed appreciably since the DeRolph decision.”

I Wonder if It Is Possible to Teach a Billionaire Heiress about Opportunity Cost

I learned about opportunity cost as a child, although I had no idea that was the lesson I was being taught. In the spring of 1957, my parents needed to replace our 1947 Dodge.  My sister and I begged my parents to buy a car with four doors, so that we wouldn’t have to scramble to get in the back seat, and my father agreed, finally.  But he said that my sister and I would have to pay for what he believed was an extravagant splurge by giving up our allowance for the rest of the year. I don’t imagine we paid for those car doors with seven months’ worth of our dime allowance, but we did learn that in our family where we didn’t have a lot of money, if you really wanted to buy something expensive, you’d probably have to give up something else.

Years later in college when, as an English major, I took Economics 101 as an elective, I was astonished to discover that economists had actually created a name for that rule my father insisted we practice in our family. Very early in the semester, my professor Robert Haveman, taught us the concept of opportunity cost.  He must have believed this is a very basic concept, because in his little economics textbook, The Market System, Professor Haveman describes it on the third page: “Only a few individuals and no societies possess the means to obtain all of the goods and services they desire. Most of us have to pick and choose…. The decision is much easier if family income increases, but choice is still necessary. The cost of the new item may be considered the loss of the opportunity to spend that income for other purposes. This is the opportunity cost principle applied to individual consumer behavior.” Haveman continues: “The same principle applies to societies because of the scarcity of means relative to ends.”

Betsy DeVos inherited a fortune from her father’s car-parts company, and I presume that in Betsy DeVos’s family economic choices were easier than in my family—without obvious lessons on opportunity cost.  Maybe there could be not merely one car with four doors, but instead several cars filling a garage with four doors. It has certainly become clear that, as our nation’s new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos doesn’t grasp Haveman’s definition of opportunity cost as the concept applies to societies—in this case to school finance.

It happened again last week when DeVos visited the public schools in Van Wert, Ohio. The day after her visit, she had an OpEd column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in which she complimented Van Wert’s schools. But after a few paragraphs she quickly forgot about the schools she had visited and began pushing her one idea: parents in Van Wert need more choices.  Here is what her column said: “Van Wert is a good school district. It is meeting the needs of many students. Yet the parents or guardians of nearly 20 percent of students who live within Van Wert’s district lines choose to send their children to a nearby district or to a different option in Van Wert instead.  In doing so, these parents are seeking the education that’s best for their child…. Every parent should have that option.  School choice is pro-parent and pro-student.”  Ohio offers public school districts the option to participate in cross-district open enrollment, through which students can take their state aid to a neighboring school district.  Apparently Van Wert participates in open-enrollment, and some parents in Van Wert transport their children to a neighboring town, though there has been a huge argument in the Ohio press since DeVos’s column was published about whether 20 percent isn’t a highly exaggerated figure for Van Wert’s participation in that program.

Betsy DeVos’s column indicates, however, that she missed the “opportunity cost” lesson Van Wert’s parents and educators tried to teach her. Van Wert, a small town near the Indiana border, is different from the urban, inner-ring, Cleveland suburban school district where my children went through public schools, but we have one thing in common: Ohio’s problematic method of funding schools.  For all of the thirty years I’ve known this system, our legislature has been dominated by people who have signed Grover Norquist’s pledge never to vote to raise taxes; many of our legislators also take pride in being members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In Ohio, our legislature has set it up so that we do not have unvoted tax increases. All tax increases including school levies must by voted on at the polls. And… in the DeRolph school funding decision, the courts faulted Ohio’s school funding for being “overly reliant on local property tax.”  And… embedded in our state constitution is a local property tax freeze. Our tax freeze means that any school levy cannot ever generate more real dollars for a school district than on the day it passes.  If property appreciates in value, the state rolls back the voted millage to keep the levy amount flat.

This all means that when inflation naturally occurs, and the state fails to increase its contribution, parents in every school district must create and fund a political committee to go out and campaign for the needed tax increase. The levies sometimes fail, and the parents have to try again, and sometimes again and again.  But inflation keeps occurring and when levies fail, school nurses and librarians begin to cover several buildings, and students on high school football teams have to pay to play. When a levy finally passes, it is very often to get back what was lost—to bring back the librarian to every school library, to make football free, to reduce class size in Kindergarten back below 22 students. In this financial climate—the very definition of opportunity cost—it is difficult for a school district afford something new and glitzy, something like the championship robotics team Van Wert’s voters have managed to fund and that we all learned about last week when Betsy DeVos visited Van Wert.  I learned to understand this public example of opportunity cost back between 1988 and 1991 when I organized a grassroots, door-to-door campaign for three school levies—with 700 volunteers each time ringing doorbells to convince neighbors to vote “yes.”  Then in 1993, I co-chaired a successful levy campaign after two failed attempts. Across Ohio, school levy fights, to be successful, have to be constructed to pull the community together on behalf of the public—the community and all of its children.

Erica Green, the NY Times reporter who traveled to Van Wert to cover the Betsy DeVos school visit, listened carefully. While I know she does not have an in-depth understanding of the school funding complexities behind the comments she reports in her article, she captures some of the urgency of the parents and educators who described the dedication of the Van Wert community to its public schools. Green notes the community’s pride in having passed its levies. She describes what Linda Haycock, newly elected from western Ohio to the state school board said to Betsy DeVos: “Spending federal money or any other taxpayer funds on vouchers for private school tuition is looked on harshly… ‘really theft’…  ‘It’s saying we passed a levy to go to our school district, and it’s really going somewhere else.'”  And Green continues: “Van Wert educators said they believed their biggest threat was school choice. An expanded voucher program would be ‘potentially catastrophic’ for the district’s finances, said Mike Ruen, the district’s treasurer.”

Teachers and school administrators alike carefully explained what would be the implications for Van Wert of the federal budget cuts proposed by DeVos’s Department of Education. Green describes the early childhood literacy specialist telling Betsy DeVos about how any reallocation of Title I funding to support expansion of school choice would undermine a program that helps very poor children with early literacy. Green quotes the school superintendent telling DeVos, “We struggle every day to make ends meet.” Green reports that an elementary school principal told DeVos, “Our funding is the blood, sweat and tears of our community, and we are held accountable for that.”

The parents, teachers, superintendent, and school treasurer in Van Wert were explaining to Betsy DeVos the essence of Professor Haveman’s lesson on the public implications of opportunity cost: “Only a few individuals and no societies possess the means to obtain all of the goods and services they desire. Most of us have to pick and choose.” In Ohio, we already have some school choice and we don’t want it expanded.  Our long experiment with vouchers has meant that tax dollars are taken to support private school education. Charter schools—unregulated and out of control in our state—have created another drain on scarce public school resources. And, as we saw in Van Wert, there is also the option for school districts to participate in cross-district open enrollment. When Betsy DeVos preaches about giving all parents a choice to have the education services they desire, I wonder whether she actually understands that sending money away from the public schools to privatized alternatives removes essential services from the public schools that serve 90 percent of our society’s children.

In a recent column in the Appleton Post-Crescent in Wisconsin—another ALEC-dominated state, where Governor Scott Walker and the legislative majority also adhere to the anti-tax pledge Grover Norquist has encouraged them to sign—Jane Parish Yang, a member of the Fox City Advocates for Public Education, defines the meaning of the public—“how a nation comes into being by shared events and shared values, and how, in our case, a community comes into being with a ‘deep, horizontal comradeship’ and strength from all young people being educated in order to become productive citizens. The founding citizens of Wisconsin knew that shared, democratic values from a public education open to each and every student would be the basis for the community flourishing because of that shared experience. But what would those same founders make of present-day Wisconsin, in which a segment of the citizenry rejects public schools… and wishes to segregate itself within its own traditions but at public expense? That is what proponents of so-called school choice are asking the public to agree to: we choose, you pay.”

Ohio Punishes Poor School Districts with Low Rankings without Providing Needed Funds

Last week the Ohio Education Policy Institute, in research funded by the Ohio School Boards Association, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, once again documented that school districts serving a large number and high concentration of children in poverty scored lowest on the state’s standardized achievement tests and ranked poorly on other statistics being used by Ohio to measure academic success.  Although the state’s ratings remain primarily symbolic this year and will not affect most state policy, it is true that schools and school districts are being branded with low marks and that the state’s ranking of school districts affects the desirability of communities in the housing marketplace. The ultimate result is that the state’s ratings of schools are driving racial and economic segregation across Ohio’s metropolitan areas.

The Plain Dealer posted the data, whose implications reporter Patrick O’Donnell explains:  “Districts with less than 10 percent of students considered ‘economically disadvantaged’ graduate 97.4 percent of students while the poorest districts graduate 73.9 percent.  That’s a 23.5 percent difference—almost one out of every four students… Districts with the least poverty send nearly twice as many students to college as districts with the highest poverty—82.5 percent to 44.4 percent.”

Jim Siegel, reporter for the Columbus Dispatch, quotes Senator Peggy Lehner, chair of the Ohio Senate Education Committee: “If there’s one thing we ought to be pretty well convinced of at this point is that parents’ income makes a big difference on school performance.  But what to do about it is the big question.”

Howard Fleeter, an expert on public finance who conducted the analysis for the Ohio Education Policy Institute, has discovered the same trend in previous years.  He told the Plain Dealer: “I feel a little like a broken record. But all we can do is keep shining a light on it.”  O’Donnell explains Fleeter’s reaction: “Fleeter said that it will be no surprise to anyone that more affluent kids go to college than poor kids. He said his findings are definitely ‘not earth-shattering.'”

Chris Woolard, who heads the accountability office at the Ohio Department of Education, does not seem concerned that marking poor communities with a “Scarlet F” on the school accountability ratings might be exacerbating the economic and racial segregation of school districts by encouraging families with means to move to an “A”-rated district: “‘These are aspirational measures that are pointing out a problem,’ Woolard said.  ‘Not all kids are leaving high school ready for college or work.’ By showing districts how many kids are not meeting the state’s goals, they now know what they have to work on, Woolard said. ‘What we’re really doing here is setting expectations,’ he said. ‘There are kids that may even be graduating in high poverty areas, but we’re setting expectations that when they do so, that they are ready for college or the workforce.'”

O’Donnell reminds readers that, “Though data on graduation rates and college readiness are shown on state report cards this year, schools and districts will not be graded on them until next year.”

What nobody seems to be thinking about is what the Plain Dealer described in late December about the plight of local governments in Ohio caused by a 10-year rash of state tax cuts that have diminished funds the state has in the past allocated for essential services. While the December report focused on municipalities, the implications of state tax cuts have also affected local school districts, particularly the school districts that serve many children in poverty. “The Local Government Fund was created in 1935, as a promise to Ohioans that their support of the state’s first sales tax would mean that 40 percent of collections would come back to local governments and schools,” but in 2011, Gov. John Kasich, faced with an $8 billion shortfall, proposed a state budget that cut 25 percent of local government funding the following year and 50 percent in 2013.  In 2005, former Governor Bob Taft and the legislature eliminated a tangible personal property tax on income and equipment that had helped fund municipal governments and school districts. They replaced it with a Commercial Activities Tax, which was then slashed by Governor Kasich and the legislature in 2011.  Then Governor Kasich folded into his 2011 budget a controversial abolition of the estate tax. And finally at the end of 2014, Kasich and the legislature “streamlined” Ohio’s income tax, a plan that will take effect in 2016 and further reduce state funding for municipalities and school districts.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Ohio is one of 31 states whose funding for public education remains below the 2008, pre-recession level.  CBPP explains further: “Property values fell sharply after the recession hit, making it difficult for local school districts to raise significant additional revenue through the property tax to make up for cuts in state funding… Local school districts can seek to raise property tax rates, but those increases are usually politically difficult and sometimes legally restricted.”  In Ohio, which does not permit school boards to raise local tax rates without a vote of the people, the school districts that serve Ohio’s poorest children have had the most difficult time raising voted millage from households that struggle to afford the cost.  CBPP reports that combined state and local funding per student in Ohio is 6.8 percent lower than it was in 2008.

Ohio’s school rating system is a classic example of blaming the victim and punishing the vulnerable. The letter “grades” for schools  and school districts published on the new state report cards not only encourage families with means to move to “A-rated,” wealthy communities that have the capacity to provide ample resources for their schools, but they make it harder for poor school districts by undermining trust and making it harder to pass school levies on election day.

This blog covered the relation between poverty and measured school achievement here.

Why Checks and Balances Need to Include the Courts

Just last week the Education Law Center, whose attorneys have litigated the landmark New Jersey school funding case in Abbott v. Burke, announced that the Education Law Center has “joined the legal teams in Maisto v. State of New York and Bacon v. NJ Department of Education, lawsuits on behalf of students in 8 Small City New York school districts and 16 poor, rural, New Jersey districts, respectively.  These cases challenge deep resource deficits and unconstitutionally low funding by each State, in violation of their state constitutions.”

It would be so nice to think that when school districts are short of money, citizens would raise their taxes to pay for what’s needed for the children. What does it say about our society that funding our schools has become deeply contentious?

According to the Education Law Center, the towns bringing the lawsuit in New York are Jamestown, Kingston, Mount Vernon, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Port Jervis, Poughkeepsie, and Utica. Together they serve 55,000 students.  All have poverty rates over 50 percent; in at least one community the poverty rate is 94 percent. “All have low property wealth and income and have experienced substantial shortfalls and state cuts in school funding in recent years.”

In New Jersey, attorneys say that a remedial order from the New Jersey Department of Education in 2009 ordered that students in 16 rural districts be fully funded under the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.  The state has not complied.  David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center commented: “Governor Chris Christie’s stubborn resistance to investing in our children leaves no alternative but to take appropriate legal action.”  In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to promise tax cuts as part of his platform for reelection this coming November.

Being free from such court oversight to enforce the mandates of a state constitution appeals to Chad Readler, a Columbus, Ohio attorney who chairs Ohio’s Constitutional Modernization Commission.  Readler is also, according to Karen Kesler of StateImpact Ohio, the chairman of the Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools.  Kesler updates earlier reports that Readler’s goal is to have the Constitutional Modernization Commission remove protection for school funding from Ohio’s constitution by deleting this clause: “The General Assembly shall provide and fund a thorough and efficient system of common school throughout the state.” Kesler quotes Readler:  “That language has been used as a vehicle to take those disputes to court and have judges set our education policy rather than boards of education and legislatures.  And in my mind that’s a concern.  I think that boards of education and legislatures are better equipped to address education policy issues.”  (This blog most recently posted on the Ohio controversy here.)

Kesler interviews members of the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House serving on the Constitutional Modernization Commission who agree with Readler and want to remove the language that makes school funding justiciable in Ohio.  They say they want the Ohio Constitution to protect school choice instead.  Kesler also quotes Charlie Wilson, a professor at the college of law at the Ohio State University, who “fears if that language is removed, there would be no right to public education in Ohio, because the U.S. Supreme court has already held that education is not a federal fundamental right and has left it to the states.” Wilson comments, “If there’s not some kind of enforcement mechanism, then it’s very easy for the General Assembly to ignore the Constitution, and then you get to the question of why even bother having a Constitution.”