School Finance

Right on schedule, district officials, driven by self-interest, are airing their grievances over Governor Kasich’s school-funding proposal. Media outlets are encouraging the “winners and losers” storyline by showing funding increases and decreases for the districts in their areas.

As the policy debate on school funding gets heated—and leaves others “puzzled”—we offer three key points to help clear the air.

Point #1: The amount of overall public funding for districts is often very generous—which would be a surprise to many taxpayers.

To hear some groups tell it, public schools are grossly “underfunded.” But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Ohio spent $13,063 per student in 2010–11—significantly more than the national average ($11,948 per student).[1] Some Ohio districts spend more than others, of course, reflecting differences in operating conditions, tax bases, and student needs. According to the Ohio Department of Education’s Cupp Report, Ohio school districts spent anywhere from just over $6,000 per student to $20,000 per student in 2012–13. These statistics include all three major streams of public funding for schools—local, state, and federal funds.

Interestingly, surveys find that the public routinely underestimates the amount spent on education. A...

NCTQ has been tracking the health of the nation’s teacher pension systems annually since 2008. It was a bad year to start—the Great Recession was heading for its nadir—but surely in 2014 things are starting to look up, right? Not so much, say the authors of the latest edition of Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions. In 2014, the overall debt load of teacher pension funds in the fifty states and the District of Columbia reached $499 billion (an increase of more than $100 billion in just the last two years). An average of seventy cents of every dollar contributed to the systems goes toward paying off the accumulated debt rather than paying into upcoming benefit needs. The folks at NCTQ, while not above some “sky-is-falling” rhetoric, report on the status of seven reforms that they believe would help to avert the pension disaster that has been looming for years, including full portability of plans, reasonable contribution rates for employers and teachers, and fair eligibility rules. The overall average state grade for teacher pension policy in 2014 is a lowly C-. Mountains of debt, overly long vesting periods, backloaded benefits, and lack of portability were the main sticking points...

Faced with enormous budgetary shortfalls, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) voted in May 2013 to close forty-seven schools, one of the largest waves of school closings in U.S. history. Shortly thereafter, CPS adopted a policy aimed at relocating more than ten thousand displaced students into higher-performing CPS schools for the 2013—14 school year. The district called the schools that absorbed displaced students “welcoming schools.” This policy was supported by research showing that students affected by closure benefit academically if they land in a better school. The welcoming schools were all higher-performing on CPS’s internal measures of performance; they also received additional resources to ease the influx of new students (e.g., student safety and instructional supports). But how did the policy play out? Did displaced students actually enroll in their assigned welcoming school? According to University of Chicago researchers, 66 percent of displaced students enrolled in their welcoming school in fall 2013. Meanwhile, 25 percent of displaced students attended other neighborhood-based CPS schools, while 4 percent attended a charter and 4 percent attended a magnet school. An analysis of student records indicates that distance from home, building safety concerns, and residential mobility were all significant reasons why students did not attend...

Cheers to State Representatives Mike Dovilla and Kristina Roegner. They are the sponsors of House Bill 2, a high-priority bill introduced early in the 131st General Assembly that would remedy long-neglected deficiencies in Ohio’s charter school law, including in transparency, sponsor/school relationships, board roles, and accountability.

Cheers to Governor John Kasich, whose FY 2016–17 state budget also includes important charter school reforms, especially in the area of sponsor quality (which you can read about elsewhere in this issue of Ohio Gadfly). While there are incentives being proffered for achieving higher quality, it should not be overlooked just how much the bar is being raised in Ohio. If the governor is successful, sponsors and schools who fail to reach the mark will not just miss out on incentives; they will be out of the education business.

Jeers to the drawing of false battle lines. Walnut Township Schools in rural Fairfield County is heading for a fiscal abyss. They must cut nearly a million dollars from their budget by February 10 or risk being placed under fiscal emergency by the state. At an emergency board meeting on February 4, a budget-cutting plan was unanimously approved, which still...

Governor Kasich released his FY 16-17 biennial budget today. True to his word, Kasich featured charter school reforms prominently, with a focus on  improving sponsor quality, eliminating conflicts of interest, and addressing some of the funding inequities that plague charter schools.

“Governor Kasich has proposed some bold reforms that could significantly improve Ohio’s charter school sector,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “While facility funding and opening the door to sharing local dollars will dominate the headlines, it would be a mistake to overlook the innovative sponsor reforms being put forward.”

Sponsors are the entities in Ohio responsible for overseeing charter school performance. The budget would ensure that all sponsors are:

  • Subject to the state’s newly implemented sponsor evaluation system
  • Accountable to the department of education
  • Closed immediately for poor operation
  • Prohibited from selling services to schools that they sponsor, and
  • Incentivized for being a high quality authorizer.

“By ensuring proper oversight of Ohio charter school sponsors and aligning incentives with performance, Governor Kasich is placing Ohio’s charter sector on a new and better path.”

Kasich’s proposed reforms join those offered last week in House Bill

...

Last week, in his State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put the weight of his office behind an education tax credit—a bill that would provide dollar-for-dollar tax relief to both individuals and businesses who donated money to either public schools or to scholarship funds that aid needy students in private and parochial schools.

This is an idea I have a personal stake in. As the superintendent of six Catholic schools in New York City, I know how financially challenging it is to keep these schools open and what a difference the donations from this tax credit would make in supporting the important work of our teachers and students.

Of course, for some people the idea of a public policy that provides any tax relief for supporters of religious schools is a third rail. They conjure up a vision of religion being forced on children or of the American ideal of “education for democracy” withering away.

But that not only represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the roots of American public education, it also ignores the reality of the debate. Rather...

In spring 2013, Ohio policymakers approved a two-year, $250 million investment aimed at spurring innovation in public schools. Known as the Straight A Fund, this competitive grant program has since catalyzed sixty new projects throughout the state, many of which are joint ventures between schools, vocational centers, ESCs, colleges, and businesses.

As a member of the grant advisory committee, I gained a firsthand view of the exciting projects happening around the state, everything from “fab labs” (a computer center outfitted with computer-aided drawing software and 3-D printers), outdoor greenhouses, and robotics workshops. Those who are interested in these projects should plan to attend this conference in Columbus on February 5.

In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers should continue to invest in innovation by reauthorizing the Straight A Fund. At the same time, the legislature should also consider a few alterations that could give an even stronger boost to the most innovative project ideas. The suggestions are as follows:

Remove the cost-reduction mandate.

A small provision in the Straight A legislation required grantees to show “verifiable, credible, and permanent” cost reductions that would result from the grant. As a result, applications were evaluated significantly on...

Financing public education has historically been the joint responsibility of state and local governments. But while traditional districts have long had access to both state and local sources of revenue, nearly all Ohio charter schools tap state funds alone. The reason: Unlike districts, charters do not have the independent authority to levy taxes on local property. Meanwhile, districts have been loath to share local funding with charters. The only exceptions in Ohio are eleven Cleveland charters, which together received $2.2 million in local revenue for 2012–13 as part of a revenue-sharing plan with the district. As a result, Ohio charters operate on less overall taxpayer support than districts.

Despite the stark fact that charters rarely receive local funds, a few groups are mounting attempts to claim that somehow charters receive proceeds from local taxes. Their claims are false. First, state data contradict any proposition that local funding directly flows to charters. Second, while some charters may receive more state aid than districts, on a per-student basis, this difference in state funding is simply a product of the state funding formula. It is not a result of local funds indirectly going to charters, as some have suggested.

The facts are...

The nineteenth edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report is out, and while Ohio outperforms over thirty states, the results show that there is still much work to be done. The 2015 report, which has a new evaluation system that focuses on outcomes rather than policies and processes, indicates that the nation as a whole declined from a C+ in 2013 (when grades were last given) to a C in 2015. Ohio also declined, moving from a B- in 2013 to a C in 2015. The report rates states’ quality along three key dimensions: Chances for Success, which takes into account indicators like family characteristics, high school graduation rates, and workforce opportunities; K–12 Achievement, which rates academic performance, performance changes over time, and poverty-based gaps (as measured by the NAEP assessments); and school finance, which includes measures of  funding equity across schools. Ohio’s overall score, which is the average of the three categories, was 75.8 out of 100 possible points, which earned a ranking of eighteenth in the nation. In the Chances for Success category, Ohio earned a B-. Most indicators in this category show that Ohio is close to the national average, including preschool enrollment (46.5 percent of...

It was the best of times…

…for the Republican Party. Election Day 2014 was a rout, with the GOP winning full control of Congress and its largest House majority since World War II. Republican governors were re-elected in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, and Maine. Democrat Pat Quinn was booted out of office in President Obama’s home state of Illinois. Republican now control two-thirds of state legislatures too. The GOP groundswell “will be good for education reform, especially reforms of the school-choice variety,” predicted Fordham’s Mike Petrilli

It was the worst of times…

...for teachers’ unions. “It’s open season on teacher employment protection laws in U.S. state courts,” noted Fordham’s Brandon Wright on the heels of June’s Vergara v. California verdict holding California’s tenure laws unconstitutional. And the hits just kept on coming. In October, the commission that runs the financially troubled Philadelphia public school system unilaterally canceled the union’s contract and ruled teachers must contribute to their health insurance to free up money for classrooms. (A good decision to avoid the big squeeze.) Election Day made the annus horribilis complete. The $60 million...

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