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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Always Do Your Runs BEFORE You Introduce School Funding Legislation

State Rep. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, has introduced his school funding bill, which would be a radical change from the way we fund schools today. He would essentially eliminate local property tax levies, create a statewide property tax, roll that into state funding, then give every kid a set amount of per pupil funding that could be used at any public, charter or private school in the state -- essentially getting rid of public schools as we've known them and turn public education into a massive voucher program.

While I actually like the idea of creating a statewide property tax to lessen the need for local levies, eliminating the ability of local communities to invest in their kids as Brenner calls for is misguided. And I would never suggest that we roll all the education money into one pot to be equally distributed to all school types. Why? Well, because that means ECOT -- yes, that ECOT -- would see a massive funding increase and most districts that perform far better than ECOT would get cut. A lot.

How is this so? Because ECOT would now be able to access that one area of school funding that so far has been off limits to all but a few Ohio charters -- local revenue.

In Brenner's bill, he sets the new per pupil funding level at $8,720 per pupil (plus categoricals, but I'll discuss that later). While that's a big boost from the state's current $6,000, don't forget that he's outlawing local property tax levies. So in order to do an approximation of economic impacts for kids, you have to add together their current state and local per pupil revenue, then subtract it from the $8,720 to find out the minimum amount that each school gets.

Surprise. The 270 largest percentage increases go to charter schools, with ECOT seeing at least a 55% per pupil increase. And this is before categorical funding (additional money sent for poverty, special ed, etc.) is included. So we're looking at perhaps as much as doubling funding to some charters, and nearly doubling the per pupil funding to ECOT, which can't graduate even 4 out of 10 kids.

In fact, 85% of charter schools would be in line for increases as large as 287%, with an average 39% increase for the 334 charters that would see increases just on the minimum funding level (we have just about 380 charters). I have provided you with just 79 the charters that will receive a 50% or greater increase based on Brenner's minimum funding level.

Meanwhile, there are 115 school districts (of 613) that would receive per pupil increases, but the average increase is a far more modest 6%, with a top of 22%.

So, the minimum per pupil funding level Brenner's plan would provide would give 85% of charters increases and 85% of districts cuts. While categoricals will adjust these numbers, overall you see the pattern -- massive benefits to kids in charters and massive detriments to kids in districts.

This is why you have to do trial runs on the figures before you introduce legislation. It's something Gov. Ted Strickland learned during the Evidence Based Model debate in 2009. It's something Gov. John Kasich learned in 2013. And it's something Brenner should have known before he introduced his bill.

Then, perhaps, he would understand why he has no co-sponsors on his bill.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Private School Vouchers Don't Mean More Kids for Private Schools

State Sen Matt Huffman, R-Lima, introduced legislation recently to create statewide vouchers for any family who meets at least 400% of poverty (for a family of four, that's about $100,000, or roughly 81% of Ohio families).

I have always had serious constitutional concerns about Huffman's plan, as I've enumerated on several occasions.

In a nutshell, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Cleveland's voucher program did not violate the Establishment Clause in 2002 because it was small in scope and scale (about $7 million) and was designed to "rescue" kids from "failing schools". However, now the program reaches nearly every school district in the state, including districts that cannot be argued to be "failing" kids. And it's approaching a $250 million program that would be available to more than 80% of Ohio's school children under Huffman's bill.

Aside from this concern, however, is the fascinating fact that since Ohio started funding private, mostly religious school vouchers in 1995-1996, enrollment in private schools has plummeted by nearly 30% to a 40-year low.

In fact, as a percentage of public school enrollment (including charters), private school enrollment is now as small as it's ever been -- less than 10% from a high of more than 13% in the mid-1990s.

What does this mean for Huffman's bill? I don't know. But what the data show pretty convincingly is the more vouchers parents have at their disposal, the fewer students become enrolled in private, mostly religious schools.

Which begs the question: Have vouchers helped maintain private, mostly religious schools' survival, or have they actually hurt private school enrollment?

Only time will tell. But it's fairly clear that if Sen. Huffman is trying to save Ohio's private, mostly religious schools, increased numbers of vouchers do not appear to do the trick.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Kasich Budget cuts 276 Ohio Districts' Transportation Funding

When Gov. John Kasich's budget came out last month, one of the first things we noticed was that transportation was being cut substantially. What we didn't know was how. Well, now the bill's language and the Ohio Legislative Service Commission's Bill Analysis are out and we now know how. Essentially, the Kasich budget calls for districts that needed more transportation funding than the state's formula allowed will now have to do with less -- in some cases much less -- under the budget's formulation.

Under current law, Ohio's school districts receive something called a "State Share Index" that is multiplied to a district's aid package to accommodate the district's ability to raise money given its citizens' income. It's more complicated than that, but that's the nutshell. Under current law, everything a district gets from the state is multiplied by this factor as an attempt to approximate the educational and local property tax challenges in each community.

Except for transportation. Under current law, the state says a district can get the greater of a 50% multiplier or their State Share Index (which can be as high as 90%). Next year, Kasich proposes to drop that 50% to 37.5%, further dropping it to 25% by the 2018-2019 school year.

That means districts whose State Share Indices were under 50% but greater than 37.5% will see substantial transportation funding cuts next year. That's about 200 districts and includes bigger cities like Canton and Cincinnati as well as Appalachian districts like Northern Local in Perry County -- the district that sued the state and won over its unconstitutional school funding system.

The following year, another 76 districts will be cut as the funding guarantee drops to 25%.

Transportation is an incredible challenge for districts. Losing state support for it can be devastating as children are forced to walk for miles to school during Ohio winters, or parents are forced to re-arrange work schedules to drive them.

Choosing to cut transportation funding to districts whose students desperately need it while the state chooses to cut $3.1 billion in income taxes, mostly for wealthy people, is a sad outcome for this proud and great state.

Our kids and communities deserve better.

Here is the list of districts that are set to see transportation cuts, arranged by county and district name. Sorry it's hard to read. But there are a bunch.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

There's Progress in Them Thar Charter Runs

Gov. John Kasich has been taking heat from me and others over his treatment of Ohio School Districts under his as introduced budget. What with 85 percent of Ohio's rural districts being cut, and now that the Ohio Legislative Service Commission has determined that Kasich's further reduction in reimbursement payments for lost Tangible Personal Property Taxes will mean that 388 of Ohio's 609 school districts will get less money in the 2018-2019 school year than they will this year, that criticism is warranted.

The Republican chair of the House finance committee called the plan "asinine."

So I'm not alone here.

Anyway, despite all this and Kasich's open admission that property taxes should fund more public education, in contravention to four Ohio Supreme Court rulings, there is a slight, silver lining in his funding plan from an unlikely place: How it treats charter schools.

Yes, only 9 out of 370 charters will get less money in the 2018-2019 school year versus this year -- a paltry 2 percent cut rate compared with the nearly 65 percent of school districts that will see less money. But there are things to like about the direction of the charter funding.

Again, this is all relative to our atrocious history with charters. So take that caveat with you on this journey.

First of all, Kasich froze the base per pupil funding amount from this school year at $6,000 for each of the next two school years. So the automatic increase charters have traditionally received over the years from the steady increase of the per pupil funding amount won't happen this budget. And while I have reservations about this as a policy long term, the fact is that for the first time since the 2010-2011 biennium, charters won't get automatic increases.

The increases charters do receive are two-fold: money for facilities and money for performance. The facilities money is problematic because it comes out of state lottery money originally voted by Ohioans to go exclusively to school districts in order to relieve property tax burden. But it's not a ton of money.

Where I'm really encouraged is the money earmarked for performance. That slight increase, coupled with flat funding the elements that have historically bumped charter schools' funding, means that the largest increases for charters in this budget (generally) go to the highest performing charters in the state. So, for example, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, the Ohio Virtual Academy, OHDELA, and the other horrifically performing eSchools get zero additional dollars. Meanwhile, the high performing Cleveland charters and the Dayton Early College Academies get the largest increases.

That is a far cry from previous budgets this Governor has produced where the worst performing charters got the largest dollar and percentage increases.

The problem of charter funding remains. Too often, local property taxpayers have to subsidize the vast majority of low performing charters that currently operate here. And Ohio's House Bill 2 reform is maddeningly slow paced at producing the changes we need to see.

In addition, the largest dollar increase for performance (just under $50,000) wouldn't even cover the cost of an additional teacher.

But considering where we've been as a state on charters (namely, a national laughingstock), this is most definitely progress. I look forward to having a robust discussion about reforming the mechanism for this state's charter school funding soon. But for the first time in our state's history, it appears we have a budget before us that provides more funding to the best performing charters in the state and does not reward the worst performers.

I suppose you can call this the slow slog of progress.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ding-Dong! DeRolph is Dead.

For 20 years, the Ohio Supreme Court has held that Ohio's dependence upon property taxes to pay for schools makes our system unconstitutional in a case called DeRolph v. State of Ohio. However, earlier today, Gov. John Kasich told school districts that are cut under his budget that going for MORE property tax levies is the answer to their funding woes. Here's what he told the assembled reporters:
“Why don’t they put a levy on? Because if they put a levy on, guess how much of the money goes into the schools? 100%. So that’s the most efficient way.”
In fact, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled four times that property taxes are the least efficient way to pay for schools. But apparently, Kasich knows better.

Never mind that he's willing to cut taxes by $3.1 billion to benefit primarily the most wealthy among us. You're right, Governor. When the Ohio Constitution reads that it's the state's responsibility to develop a "thorough and efficient" system of schools, they really meant only if certain school districts would be willing to pay for them with property taxes.

Now I understand why he's cutting money to 83 percent of rural districts and why he's taking money from districts least able to raise local property taxes and give it to districts that are best able to do so.




He just doesn't care.

Tax cuts for the rich are more important than our state's 1.8 million kids.

My God, I wish it weren't so.

For Apparently the First Time Ever, John Kasich Freezes Ohio School Funding Formula

The current Ohio budget is fascinating because it contains apparently the first instance of a Governor's budget freezing in place the state's per pupil funding "formula" (which isn't really a formula, as I've discussed before) so that the basic aid each student receives in each district will be $6,000 for this coming school year and the one after and all future years.

As far as I can tell going back through as many budgets as are available on the Office of Budget and Management's website (through the 06-07 budget), Ohio has never frozen the basic state aid amount. And while the Evidence Based Model wasn't a classic per pupil funding formula, you could manipulate it to approximate per pupil funding, and it did represent an increase -- during the Great Recession, I might add.

This unprecedented freeze in the state's base aid amount is dangerous. That's because the Governor is putting in the $6,000 without any mention of school years, meaning he's trying to freeze that base aid figure permanently into law.

Why is this a problem? Several reasons.

  1. The freezing of the base aid amount means inflationary increases for any costs schools must bear now fall (once again) to local property taxpayers
  2. The $6,000 figure isn't even keeping pace with a simple inflationary increase from the 2007 formula (the so-called "Building Blocks") upon which the amount was based. So it's freezing into law an amount that's already too low (and there's an argument to be made that the 2007 formula was inadequate).
  3. Re-calculating the 2007 formula using today's actual costs indicates that the $5,732 calculated in 2007 would probably be closer to $7,600

I'm not saying that you automatically need to increase base aid funding by $100 a year or something. That's totally arbitrary, though it's what the state has done now for a couple budget cycles. What I'm saying is let's actually figure out how much kids need in order to have the outstanding educational opportunities they deserve and we all want for them.

Then let's fund it.

But freezing the base aid figure in perpetuity I fear also freezes any hope that we will one day achieve that lofty goal our nation's founder envisioned.

I'm hopeful, though. The very reasonable and thoughtful Chairman of the House Finance Committee, Ryan Smith, R-Gallipolis, called the Governor's manipulation of winners and losers in his introduced funding plan "asinine".

So there's that...

Monday, February 6, 2017

20 Years Later, Ohio Still Unconstitutionally Funds Schools

In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled for the first of four times that the way Ohio funded its schools violated the state's constitutional responsibility to provide a "thorough and efficient" education to all kids because, for the most part, we relied too much on local property taxes to pay for schools. 

Twenty years later, Ohio's looking again at a continuation of a steady de-commitment to the only specifically mandated thing Ohio's legislature is supposed to do -- fund public schools.

And this year's budget will make the problem worse if it isn't changed by the legislature. Why is that? Because the districts that will receive less state funding under Gov. John Kasich's budget are the districts least able to cope with those cuts -- small, rural districts, 83 percent of which will be cut. That's because they raise local revenue at a 116 percent lower rate than the districts that received flat or increased funding.


As you can see, it is difficult to understand how this budget won't make the unconstitutional problem worse for kids in rural districts. 

Piggybacking on that, Ohioans are now paying more than ever in local property taxes for their schools -- a fact that more than anything proves that Ohio's school funding system remains unconstitutional.



This is what happens when the state steps away from the table at historic levels, as it did in 2011. Then refuses to develop a school funding formula that accurately costs out educational needs. Then continues to arbitrarily spend money in a haphazard way to create winners and losers out of a system that should only produce winners.

As Ohio legislators begin questioning administration officials about the latest budget, there is really only one question that needs answered: How does increasing the need for local property tax levies meet the state's constitutional mandate to reduce them?