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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ohio House Takes My Advice and Moves Ball Forward on Charter Accountability

State Rep. Robert Cupp, R-Lima
It's not often that I can say that one of my ideas was adopted by the Ohio House of Representatives. I tend to be the wrong party for such occurrences. So when it does happen, I have to point it out with some pride and gratitude.

In the House version of the biennial budget (House Bill 49), House Republicans inserted a subtle, but important provision in the state's new charter school sponsor evaluation system that will result in, I believe, more accurate assessments of how sponsors do their jobs.

(For those of you who don't know, sponsors are typically non-profits, schools or other entities that oversee charter schools' operations. It has traditionally been sponsors who have fallen asleep at the switch as Ohio's charter schools became a national laughingstock for performance and accountability.)

The current evaluation system says that sponsors will be graded based on three elements: how their schools perform academically, how well they adhere to state operational guidelines and how well they adhere to national standards, as developed by the charter industry. They receive a rating of "exemplary", "effective", "ineffective" or "poor". If they are at the high end of the spectrum, they have more freedom to open new charters. If they're at the low end, they could be shut down.

he problem has been that sponsors that performed really poorly on academics could still receive relatively high ratings as long as they dotted their i's and crossed their t's on the more bureaucratic measures. Likewise, sponsors with really high academic ratings were classified as ineffective because they didn't dot i's and cross t's as effectively.

My thought, as I've said in multiple forums since the sponsor evaluation system was adopted several years ago, was we should weight academics more than the other two sections. And if the sponsor fails to do well on the bureaucratic measures, it shouldn't knock them all the way down the scale if they're doing stellar academic work.

Under the House version, which was put forward by House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Robert Cupp, R-Lima, (who is chair of the same subcommittee I chaired in 2009) charter sponsors will no longer automatically receive bad ratings if they don't dot i's or cross t's. And the sponsors' schools' academic performance will now count 60 percent more than the other two sections.

What does this mean? It means the sponsors that currently have A grades for academics (all of these are school districts and one Educational Service Center, by the way) will no longer be deemed "ineffective" because they don't dot their i's effectively. They'll be considered "effective" or "exemplary" because the students over whom they have authority are doing well.

Likewise, sponsors that are currently deemed effective because they dot i's really well but receive Ds on their academic ratings will be less highly rated.

This will encourage sponsors to take more care with their schools' academic performance -- the heart of their mission -- because it will matter a lot more to their rating. So in that way, the House budget moves the ball forward on charter school accountability, even by a little bit. And for that, I, and the parents and students of Ohio, am and are grateful.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Education Chairman Andrew Brenner Stands Up for Failing E-School Giant

House Education Committee Chairman Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, is at it again. This time, he's proposing a change to Ohio's charter school evaluation system that would primarily benefit the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), the nation's largest K-12 school and among the nation's worst performing.

He's doing this by proposing to lessen the impact the number of students at a charter school plays on the academic performance rating of a charter school sponsor. Sponsors are supposed to oversee Ohio's privately run, publicly funded charter schools.

Under the state's sponsor evaluation system, sponsors are rated either Exemplary, Effective, Ineffective or Poor based on three criteria: How their schools perform, how well the sponsor adheres to state regulations and how well they adhere to industry-created operating standards.

Under the academic rating, schools' performance is weighted by how many kids are in the school. So if a sponsor is responsible for 20 schools, but 90 percent of the students are in one of them, that one school's academic rating counts more than the other 19. Brenner's change would mean all 20 are counted the same, even if 90 percent of the students are in 1 school.

ECOT's current sponsor is the Education Service Center of Lake Erie West, which has an F in academic performance, driven in large part by ECOT's horrific academic performance. Lake Erie West risks its ability to sponsor future charters, or even its current portfolio, if it continues with these poor ratings. Which means it has an incentive to dump ECOT, even though the sponsor receives more than $3 million a year just from state mandated fees it receives from ECOT.

But Brenner's proposal would soften ECOT's impact on Lake Erie West and likely keep the sponsor from potentially dropping ECOT.

This is the kind of stuff that made Ohio the national laughingstock it has been for years on charter school oversight. Add to this provision the revelation late last week that Ohio will have to cough up $22 million of the nation's highest $71 million it received to promote charter schools in the state because there are only 5 of 65 sponsors that perform well enough to qualify, and you start seeing why we still have so far to go.

I agree that the sponsor evaluation system needs tweaked. There are 8 Ohio charter school sponsors with As in academics. None rate above ineffective on the overall rating. Why? Because the state took liberties with the law governing the rating system. Under Ohio Revised Code Section 3314.016(B)(6), "[t]he department annually shall rate all entities that sponsor community schools as either "exemplary," "effective," "ineffective," or "poor," based on the components prescribed by division (B) of this section, where each component is weighted equally . A separate rating shall be given by the department for each component of the evaluation system."

However, weighting each grade equally means if you get an A and two Fs, you get a B, or effective, rating. The Ohio Department of Education wrote a rule stating that if a sponsor received an F in any category, they couldn't be rated above ineffective, which weighs one are more than another in violation of the law. Not saying what ODE did wasn't admirable, but it was, likely, illegal.

I would like to see the academic portion counted more heavily than the bureaucratic provisions. Parents don't care if sponsors dot i's and cross t's; they care if they actually make sure their children are being educated.

But the last thing we need is stuff like Brenner's provision to once again carve out Ohio's worst-performing schools for special protections. That's what makes Ohio's charter school experience so ridiculed nationally.

Our state's kids and parents deserve better.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Politics Explains why Ohio Budget Director has Job Security Despite Disastrous Revenue Projections.

From Left to Right: Ohio Budget Director Tim Keen, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, Gov. John Kasich, and Senate President Larry Obhof announced Ohio Budget projections are off by $400 million a year during a stable economic period


I don't mean to pile on here, but where is the outrage over Gov. John Kasich's budget director being off by $400 million a year on his revenue projections when there isn't a recession going on?

I was in the legislature the last time revenue projections were this off. And that was during the Great Recession, when you could explain missing the mark because our economy was in free fall. But that didn't stop legislative Republicans from calling for then-Gov. Strickland (a Democrat) to fire his budget director Pari Sabety for her inability to provide "reliable projections due to inaccurate estimates."

Contrast that with the silence from legislative leadership (which is Republican) from making similar calls of Tim Keen (whose boss is a Republican). In fact, as the above picture shows, the House Speaker and Senate President stood with the budget director who couldn't project revenue accurately during a relatively stable economic time.


I'm not saying that Tim Keen needs to lose his job. But I'm just amazed that being as bad at projecting revenue as he was during a steady economic period hasn't been met with more concern by Ohio's legislative budget hawks than Sabety's inability to project revenue during an historically bad and unpredictable economic time.

Now the question becomes what to do with this budget loss? Do legislative leaders decide to go ahead with the $3.1 billion income tax cut? Do they hold off on some of that? Do they hit the rainy day fund?

The real question is whether Ohio's legislative leaders will do what's right or will they continue their obeisance to the Laffer Curve, which just screwed them. We'll see.

One thing I do know: Any hope of increased education funding seems to be all but gone. And that sucks for Ohio's kids.

Ohio Legislative Service Commission: "Income Based" Voucher Bill Would Qualify 74% of Ohio Families

State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, introduced Senate Bill 85 last month amid some momentum. However, that momentum must be tempered by what the Ohio Legislative Service Commission discovered during its fiscal analysis of the bill. Even though it's being touted as an "income based" voucher program, it actually would apply to any family of four making $98,000 or less. According to LSC, that would apply to 74 percent of Ohio families -- hardly the vision for vouchers that was articulated by Chief Justice William Rhenquist in the landmark Zelman case that established the constitutionality of Ohio's voucher system -- when it was a $6 million program in Cleveland.

Under Huffman's bill, vouchers would expand statewide at an additional overall cost of $1.2 billion, with a more than $5 billion cut to money for school districts. This is assuming the 1 million more students eligible for the program take advantage of it.

However, this has always been the issue and misleading argument with voucher programs. There simply aren't enough seats in Ohio's private schools to accommodate that many students. There are currently 60,000 open EdChoice vouchers, and barely 1/4 of them are utilized. And there aren't enough open seats for 60,000 students. All it would take to subsidize most, if not all the current 117,000 or so students in Ohio's private schools is for about one out of 10 eligible students under Huffman's bill to take the voucher. It would cost $607 million for these students to all receive public subsidies, using the same LSC figures on the current private school population

These voucher programs are designed not to "rescue" kids from "failed" schools; they are designed to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize the cost of private school for parents who have already made the choice and currently are paying for that choice on their own.

It's been a problem since the program's beginning. And it's what happened in Cincinnati when the special education voucher program started. Of the 199 students who applied for the special ed voucher, only 15 had ever been in Cincinnati Public Schools.

Don't fall for the argument that vouchers give kids a chance who otherwise don't have the chance to "escape" their schools. They overwhelmingly go to students whose parents have already made that choice for them and, in many cases, never really attended the school district whose state money is now subsidizing that decision.

If there were a requirement that said no student can receive a voucher unless they have attended the local public school district for at least one continuous school year, you would see how few parents actually decide to use these vouchers for the reasons espoused by their advocates.

Betsy DeVos visits Van Wert. Her Privatization Agenda's Already Been There. A Lot.

U.S. Secretary of Education and school privatization advocate Betsy DeVos will be visiting Van Wert today. Van Wert is a little burg in Northwest Ohio. And while I welcome the visit (along with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten), I think it's important for everyone to understand what the privatization agenda DeVos has spent her life promoting has done to kids, families and taxpayers in Van Wert. I published my thoughts at Innovation Ohio yesterday, but thought I'd re-print it here today.

How School Choice Has Hurt Van Wert
..."As DeVos is one of the nation’s top proponents of school choice options like charter schools and vouchers, it is important for the people of the City and County of Van Wert to understand just how much these options have hurt the overwhelming percentage of children who attend the local public schools in Van Wert County.

Since the 2012-2013 school year, $3,744,988 in state funding originally meant for the children attending Van Wert County’s local public schools has instead gone to privately run brick and mortar and online charter schools, which generally perform worse on state metrics than Van Wert schools do.



Because the amount the state spend on charter schools is so much greater than the state provides to Van Wert’s local public schools, local taxpayers in Van Wert (which include income taxpayers in some of the districts), have had to subsidize these larger state payments to charter schools to the tune of $1.4 million – money that should have supplemented the larger state aid amount but is now being used to subsidize poorer performing, privately run charter schools.



Overall, the vast majority of funding to charters from Van Wert County schools comes from Van Wert City Schools. More than 3 out of 4 charter dollars sent from Van Wert County schools comes from its city schools. However, it remains significant that nearly $500,000 has gone to charters from Lincolnview and nearly $400,000 from Crestview.

As if on cue, local property taxpayers in Van Wert County schools are paying $3 million more in property taxes in 2015 (the most recent available data from the Ohio Department of Taxation) than they did in 2013, which is increasing  those communities’ reliance on property taxes to pay for education – a result deemed unconstitutional four times by the Ohio Supreme Court."


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.