Ohio at the Crossroads: School funding—more of the same or changing the model?

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Ohio Governor Ted Strickland's education plan calls for modernizing Ohio's K-12 education system, including the state's school-funding system, but the plan's so-called "evidence-based" approach would actually scuttle any modernizing efforts, argues this study issued by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The governor's funding plan "would prop up an outdated system of school finance that establishes funding levels based on convention rather than need, sustains institutions whether they work or not, spends money with little regard for results and holds adults accountable for compliance not results," says author Paul T. Hill, Corbally Professor at the University of Washington, director of that university's Center on Reinventing Public Education, Senior Fellow at Brookings and former senior social scientist at RAND.

In fact, Hill says, "Once one gets past the rhetoric, one finds that the main active ingredients in the governor's plan are spending increases towards helping schools and districts employ more administrators, teachers and support staff."

Hill was lead author on the six-year, $6 million, Gates-funded, nationwide study Facing the Future: Financing Productive Schools. This report, issued in December 2008, is the most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted, prepared by more than 40 economists, lawyers, financial specialists, and education policy makers. It was comprised of more than 30 separate studies, including in-depth looks at Ohio, North Carolina, Texas and Washington.

Much of Gov. Strickland's evidence-based approach to school funding runs counter to what the Gates report recommended in December. That study shows that "schools and systems that work best, especially for poor and disadvantaged youngsters, are not all alike: they use funds, teachers, students' time, materials, and technology very differently."

Hill provides four recommendations for improving the Governor's school funding plan:

  • Drive funds to schools based on student numbers and needs through a process called weighted student funding.
  • Encourage experimentation with the uses of funds and imaginative new instructional programs.
  • Hold all schools and school districts to account for student performance and continuous improvement.
  • Gather and use data on the uses of funds and the results produced, so that alternative methods of delivering instruction can be compared on cost and effectiveness.