Tuesday, February 19, 2019

If This is Your Best Argument for More Charter Money, um....

Today, the Plain Dealer reported on an updated look at Ohio charter school performance from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO). The center, which is housed at the free market Hoover Institute at Stanford University, discovered that Ohio charter schools are performing about as poorly as ever.

"There is little to no progress in Ohio charter school performance," concluded CREDO Director Macke Raymond, whose comments several years ago about how the free market system hadn't worked in education caused quite a stir.

However, like most charter school analyses ever done in Ohio, CREDO did find pockets of success among brick-and-mortar charters, and blamed the overall stagnant performance on e-schools. Leave it to Aaron Churchill of the Fordham Institute to drive a truck through that mouse hole.

Here's how the PD reported it:
"After years of shortchanging charter students, lawmakers should finally move to fund brick-and-mortar charters equitably, helping to kick-start new-school formation and the rapid expansion of the state’s top-performing charters,” Churchill wrote.
Obviously trying to piggyback on his dubious claim that charters don't get enough money and have earned a raise from state lawmakers, Churchill really stretches out over his skis here. There are major caveats with CREDO's methodology (for a detailed breakdown, take a read here), but here is my major concern -- the group only looks at student growth.

That is one of MANY measures of a school's performance. And growth has always been an area where charters and districts perform more similarly. Districts still beat charters pretty well on the measure, but it's not quite the runaway contest that proficiency or graduation rates are, for example.

Here's another thing: Ohio's been artificially deflating school district performance for years now, dragging down their overall grades to better comport with historic charter school performance. Don't believe me? Take a look at the percentage of grades each sector has received each year since the state started using the A-F system in the 2012-2013 school year.

 What you can see is that since Ohio started changing its testing regime, and more heavily weighting the more charter-friendly "value added" measure, low district grades have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, charter grades have pretty well stayed the same during the same period -- overall pretty bad. Importantly, though, Districts still have less than half the rate of F grades as charters. Just saying.

This got me thinking about the whole light speed thing again.

"Huh?" you ask.

Let me explain.

According to Einstein's Theory of Relativity, it is impossible to go faster than the speed of light (though as a sci-fi fan, I sure hope it's not) because it requires infinite energy. So you can approach light speed, but never go over it.

How does this apply to state report card grades? Well, it's like this: Charter performance was so bad, it would have been impossible for them to get much worse. So they had nowhere to go but up, really. Meanwhile, school district performance was flying quite high in 2012-2013, with barely 10 percent of district grades being designated Fs. So when the state starts implementing new tests over a short period, districts have a farther way to fall, which they do (by design, I might add), which makes it seem like maybe charters are gaining on districts, when in fact district performance is simply being artificially dropped not by actual performance, but by state policy changes. 

Does anyone actually believe that districts are twice as likely to have failing grades today as they were 5 years ago? Please.

What is amazing is that charter school performance has remained remarkably consistent. And poor. Yes, their Fs and Ds jumped a bit after all the testing changes. But really, they've been at about 50 percent Fs all along. Is this because charters did a better job at handling the changes?

No. It's because they were approaching light speed already, and they couldn't have done much worse overall. So even though Churchill and others claim that charters have demonstrated their worth and earned the right for a pay raise from the state, I contend if you think they should get a pay raise now, why shouldn't it have come in the 2012-2013 school year when only 40 percent rather than 50 percent of their grades were Fs? Why would we reward their worse performance today?

Yes, it is true they've improved since the low point of 2015-2016 (the last of the three consecutive years of test switching). But they still receive a higher rate of failing grades than they did in 2012-2013 and have only seen a 17 percent drop in frequency of Fs. Districts have cut their F frequency by 22 percent.

Want another staggering data point?

Since the 2012-2013 school year, a total of 11,832 grades were handed out to the state's charter schools (only 7 schools were statewide e-schools for this whole period, by the way, so the vast majority of these grades are for brick-and-mortar schools). Of those 11,832 grades, more than half were Fs. That means since 2012-2013, charter schools have received more Fs than all other grades combined. The number of As? Barely 1,000. Out of nearly 12,000.

What grade have districts received more than any other?

As.

By more than 1,000.

And this is despite the fact that districts' performance has been intentionally Nerfed by state policymakers who desperately want charter schools to succeed even though the evidence is pretty overwhelming they aren't overall.

Can charter schools work here? I believe they can on a limited basis. Are there pockets of success?Yes. Of course. But for advocates like Fordham to contend an overall performance revolution in Ohio charter schools as the basis for an overall pay raise for this long-struggling sector that even charter advocates admit aren't improving a whole lot, stretches the bounds of reason, especially given how much the state has divested from the 90 percent of kids who aren't in charters.

Let's fund charters based on what it actually costs to educate kids there. Let's give performance bonuses where warranted. Let's do it without hurting kids who aren't in charters.

And let's see what happens.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Fabrications of a Charter School Zealot

In a recent post by the usually sound Aaron Churchill, the Fordham Institute researcher takes some significant pot shots at William Phillis -- the legendary Ohio public school advocate whose work led to the Ohio Supreme Court ruling four different times that the way the state funds public schools is unconstitutional.

I played on Churchill's title for my title of this post.

Churchill's major problem with Phillis' analysis of charter school expenditures is Churchill doesn't like the inconvenient truth that the average charter school spends several hundred dollars more per pupil than the average school district.

Unfair! cries Churchill. You have to weight the average per pupil expenditure. That way it's more fair. He points to the calculation he made in his recent report arguing that more money needs to be given to charter schools as the only fair way to possibly calculate what charter schools spend.

See, here's the problem.

His "weighted" average per pupil expenditure is not an accurate reflection of how many tax dollars go to charters. If you multiply his "weighted" average by the number of students in charters, the amount isn't actually what charters spend.

If you multiply the "unweighted" amount, it does. All weighting does is make it look like charters spend less than districts.

At the end of the day, taxpayers want to know how much of their money is being spent. And in charter schools, about $400 more is being spent per pupil.

Period.

In addition, Churchill ignores the fact that charters, on average, spend about $1,200 more per pupil on administrative, non-instructional costs than school districts. Even big urban districts spend $300 less per student.

So, in other words, if Ohio charter schools reduced their administrative spending to that of Ohio school districts, even on Churchill's "weighted" calculation, they would end up spending about the same as districts.

It's funny how free market reformers like Churchill quickly disparage "bloated" school district administration, but never point out that if charters were simply more efficient at spending money in the classroom, they wouldn't be begging for more.

That's because overall, charters spend about twice the percentage of their money on administrators as school districts do, equating to about 1 in 4 dollars spent by charters.

Next, Churchill goes to the old argument that charter students have far more challenging populations than school districts. Which is generally true, on average.

However, Churchill always wants to compare charters with the state's 8 major urban school districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati. Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown).

If one does that, about 2 out of every 3 charter schools have 100 percent economically disadvantaged. Meanwhile, only 2 major Ohio urban districts have less than 100 percent economically disadvantaged populations. On average, Ohio's urban districts have about 5 percent higher rate of minority students and about a 10 percent higher rate of economically disadvantaged students than Ohio charter schools.

So, using Churchill's argument that schools with more challenged populations should get more money, it seems that the fact urban districts spend more per equivalent pupil than charters makes sense.

Also absent from Churchill's analysis is the fact that every dollar leaving Akron and Cincinnati for a charter school last school year went to a charter that performed worse on more state report card measures than Akron and Cincinnati.

Churchill also failed to mention that while lots of folks are rightly concerned that 14 Ohio school districts received overall grades of F on the state report card last year, marking them for state takeover, if one applied that standard to Ohio charter schools, 103 of 340 charters receiving grades either received Fs or "Does Not Meet Standards" if they're a dropout recovery school (mind you that "standard" is graduating about 7 out of 100 kids in 4 years).

So 3 out of 10 Ohio charter schools would be set for state takeovers, if the state takeover law applied to them the way it does school districts.

Oh, and about $200 million of your tax dollars went to charters that would have been marked for state takeover, if they were treated like districts.

I anticipate Churchill will complain that I'm comparing all charters with all Ohio school districts. Charter proponents demand their performance only be compared with school districts and buildings that struggle the most.

However, every school district but one had at least some state money transferred to charters from their state funding. You don't get to take money from every school district, yet demand you be held accountable relative to the performance of the most struggling districts.

Sorry, Aaron.

Especially when the current system forces local property taxpayers in those districts to fork over more of their property taxes to make up for the state funding transferred to charters.

And here is the breakdown of charter and district letter grades on the state report card this last year. As you can see, about half of all charter grades are F -- almost more Fs than all other grades combined -- and more than 7 out of 10 are D or F. Meanwhile, about 6 in 10 district grades were A, B, or C.

I guess what I'm most disappointed by though is Churchill's utter lack of deference and respect for Phillis, who more than any single person in the history of the state has held politicians' feet to the fire on equal and adequate funding for all students.

Frankly, Phillis has forgotten more education funding and policy than either I or Churchill will ever know. Churchill's cheap, ad hominem attacks on this man who has spent his life fighting for all kids to receive a world-class education is truly distressing.

My advice to Mr. Churchill would be to stick with trying to knock me around. Because with Phillis he is punching way above his weight class.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Should Charter Schools Get More Money for Buildings? Depends...


A recent call by the Fordham Institute and national charter school proponents has called for Ohio charter school facilities funding to be boosted by nearly 400 percent to match what they actually spend on facilities. While that may sound outrageous, especially given how Ohio charter schools have been near the bottom in national performance comparisons, I'm (surprisingly, perhaps) sympathetic to the idea.

And I told NPR so yesterday.

With major caveats.

First of all, let's talk money. Currently, charters get $200 per student for facilities funding. Yet they spend $785 per pupil, according to Fordham. Which means, they argue, charters need more money.

I do find it curious that when school districts argue they're not being paid enough by the state to cover expenses, free market folks like Fordham call districts wasteful or slovenly inefficient. Yet no such calls here. Hmmm.

Anyway, I've always believed that ensuring charter schools don't have to go into the waiting arms of ne'er-do-well, for-profit charter school operators would be a strong change in policy. One of the major reasons schools pick for profits is because for profits have access to capital and buildings. However, the for profits then fleece the schools on rents.

Here's the problem, though. That charter facility funding comes out of Ohio Lottery money. Last I checked, we were told the lottery was supposed to save us from having more property taxes. Now the state is removing about $16.6 million a year -- instead of putting it into school districts, potentially reducing property taxes -- and giving it to charters for facilities. If they quadruple that, it would be about $50 million more removed form Lottery funds to give to charters.

I don't think that's what the voters approved when they adopted the Lottery.

See, this has been, is and (I fear) will continue to be the problem with the way Ohio has funded school choice programs. The state siphons off a few million here and a few million there that would otherwise have gone to the 90 percent of students whose families choose local public schools. And they give it to privately run schools that aren't nearly as transparent as local public school districts.

And they generally perform worse that the school districts to whom that money was originally designated.

All that invariably forces local property taxpayers to pass more and bigger levies.

So, I am all for charters getting more facilities money because I think it helps keep the bad operators out of the game. But not if it means the 90 percent of Ohio students who remain in local public schools have to rely on more levies for their educations, or go with fewer opportunities.

If the state really believes in school choice, put your money where your mouth is and fund it with separate money that isn't taken away from local public school districts. Stop forcing property taxpayers to subsidize these payments.

I would feel better about Fordham's advocacy here if they identified a new revenue stream or something else to pay for this expense. But I'm suspecting that they'll just ask for a 400 percent jump in their facilities funding through the Lottery, which will siphons off more money originally meant for school districts.

Fish or cut bait. It's really that simple.

Monday, January 28, 2019

What Coulda Been (And Still Could Be) ...


This school year is the 10th since I was the Chairman of the Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee on the House Finance and Appropriations Committee. It was during that committee process that we developed (among other national award-winning education reforms) the so-called Evidence Based Model of school funding -- Ohio's most serious attempt to address the Ohio Supreme Court's four rulings determining that Ohio's education funding formula was inadequate at calculating the cost of educating Ohio's 1.7 million students and relied too much on local property taxes to fund.

Among the promises made in that package was a 10-year, phased-in funding plan. We picked 10 years because 2009 was the height of the Great Recession, which limited the additional revenue we could commit to the plan initially. But I required that the state publish the 10-year full funding version so that the public could at least hold future legislators accountable to fully fund the thing.

Here is a look at the research that backed each of the funding elements in the EBM. As you can see, there was evidence behind the model -- a far cry from today's "formula", which isn't really a formula in the classic sense.

Even with the limited additional revenue, EBM was beginning to work. The second year of that plan was the only time in Ohio history that more state than local revenue paid for Ohio's public education.

After the 2010 election, though, Gov. John Kasich killed the EBM, replacing it with a plan that initially cut money to education by about $1.8 billion. He then developed his own school funding plan, which was so despised that his own party rejected it in 2013. Ever since, Ohio has essentially created arbitrary per pupil funding increases, which bear no relation to the actual cost of educating kids.

However, that may be changing soon as state Reps. Robert Cupp and John Patterson have been working on a plan that sounds eerily similar to me, basing funding on what kids need and trying to reduce the need for local property taxes to pay for it. And that's all I've ever asked: Figure out the cost, pay for it and don't force us to go to the ballot every couple years to pay for your poorly calculated formula. I don't care what you call it. Just do it.

Given the historic nature of this school year, I wanted to show everyone what the EBM would have provided districts and what today's formula provides.

The difference is stark.

Only about 10 percent do better under the current formula. And 90 percent do worse. Usually significantly worse. For example, Cleveland receives $144 million less today than they would have under the EBM.

Think that would have helped CMSD implement its Transformation Plan? Instead, they've had to rely on local philanthropy and an historically huge local property tax hike to do not even all of what the plan called for.

For a district-by-district rundown of all the state's school districts, visit the spreadsheet I've posted here.

Now some may say that coming up with the $1.7 billion difference between a fully-funded EBM and what the state current spends is an outrageous amount. However, the state now has at least $3 billion fewer today than it could have because of various tax cuts that the state has instituted, especially during the Kasich years.

So we could have paid for a fully funded EBM if we had only cut taxes half as much. It wouldn't have required an additional income tax increase or anything.

Just not as big a tax cut. That's all.

And I bet you haven't even noticed the tax cuts. That's because the wealthiest 1 percent has seen a $17,618 tax cut. Regular folks have seen a $94 cut. And the least wealthy among us have seen an increase. That's right. Give back half of that $94 and your property taxes could have been dramatically cut by an average of $240 a year (depending on where you live, it could have been MUCH more than that).

Look, I get that finding money in this budget will be a challenge. I understand that given the makeup of the General Assembly and Governor's mansion, this will be a heavy lift.

But I also know that two House members are genuinely trying to get this right. I see a new House Speaker who lives in the school district where the DeRolph school funding case originated and probably feels like he has some unfinished business on school funding.

But most of all, I get that our kids need us to deliver for them. A new formula based on what kids need to succeed in the classroom and beyond. A mechanism that doesn't force voters to tax themselves at higher and higher rates every couple years. A system we can all be proud of.

Ten years ago, we were on our way to accomplishing that. Maybe over the next 10 years we can finish that mission.

Just as a personal aside, when I did EBM, my oldest son was in Kindergarten and my youngest had just been born. At the end of the coming two-year budget cycle, my oldest son will be driving and my youngest will be getting ready for middle school.

It is ridiculous that we are working on our third generation of Ohio students whose educations we've failed to properly fund or even calculate.

It's now no longer for my kids' sake we need to get this right.

It's for the generation behind them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

State Superintendent Tells New School Board Members Ohio School Funding is Constitutional. Data Say He's Wrong.

Well this is quite a thing. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria wrote a memo to school board members Sunday that openly claimed that Ohio's school funding system is now constitutional. Even though the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled four times that it's unconstitutional.

Why did he say this? Because the court hasn't ruled on the issue since 2002. Yet the reason they haven't is because the Court dropped jurisdiction over the case, not because they thought anything was fixed. So plaintiffs are barred from suing over the issue anymore. Yet DeMaria is telling incoming State Board members that means it's constitutional.

Because plaintiffs can't test it?

Oy.

Vay.

Look, according to the fourth Supreme Court ruling from 2002, “Until a complete systematic overhaul of the system is accomplished, it will continue to be far from thorough and efficient and will continue to shortchange our students. The overreliance on local property taxes is the fatal flaw that until rectified will stand in the way of constitutional compliance.”

So let's use the test laid out by the Ohio Supreme Court (not the State Superintendent of Public Instruction) to determine whether today's school funding system is constitutional, shall we?

Systemic Overhaul

Today's school funding "formula" is not appreciably different from the one instituted in 2002. It has a few different calculations, but it's not unrecognizable. Certainly no "systemic overhaul." In fact, it's not even a formula, per se. The amount for basic aid was set up through arbitrary increases from the Building Blocks formula last calculated in 2007. It's so inadequate at calculating student need that nearly every school district gets too much or too little under its mechanism.

State Reps. Cupp and Patterson are working on a real formula overhaul. And in 2009, the Evidence Based Model certainly fit the definition of an overhaul that calculated an actual cost. But today's "formula"?

Please.

Overreliance on Property Taxes

This is pretty simple to determine. Do property taxes make up a greater share of the cost of education today than they did it 2002? The answer is, well, yes. In 2002-2003, the local share was 51.05%. In the 2015-2016 school year, that percentage was 51.75% -- and that doesn't include the nearly $800 million or so more that school districts lose in state revenue to charter schools and vouchers today than they did in 2002-2003.

So clearly, the cost to local taxpayers has gone up since 2002-2003. In addition, look at average property tax rates. In 2002-2003, the Ohio Department of Taxation reported that the average number of mills a district collected from property taxpayers to pay for schools were 30.06.

Today, it's 37.70.

That's a 25% increase in local property taxes paying for schools!

Under the key requirements set by the Ohio Supreme Court in 2002, today's school funding system fails to meet either.

The question remains: Why is the State Superintendent telling school board members the exact opposite? Especially given how potentially influential the state board could be in helping state lawmakers and the new governor adopt a real "systemic overhaul" of the school funding system that doesn't overly rely on property taxes to fund it?

Monday, November 19, 2018

Keep Your Eye on the School Funding Ball

As you begin hearing more about the Patterson-Cupp committee's proposals for fixing school funding -- ideas that as of now hold much promise -- I want to make sure everyone is aware of what funding numbers matter as we consider future funding levels.

There are several pots of state money that go to schools. The largest is from the state's General Revenue Fund (GRF). The next largest is the Lottery Fund, which has been a problem since the beginning because all that fund did is allow state lawmakers to cut GRF funding and replace that cut with lottery money. Lottery money doesn't increase commitment to education; it just changes what percentage of that money comes from the GRF.

However, there are others that used to not be considered part of state funding, but now are (for reasons I'll explain in a bit).

The first is Property Tax Relief. This is state money that has been set aside to offset property taxes since the income tax passed in the 1970s. The deal was if schools supported the income tax, a portion of it would be used to reduce local property taxes. That's why Ohioans have, in the past, only paid $0.875 cents for every $1 of property tax raised.

However, in 2013, Gov. John Kasich eliminated this property tax relief on all future, new money levies. So while Ohioans continue to pay about 88 cents on the dollar for old and renewed levies, for new ones, they pay the full freight.

Whenever this pot of money has been used by governors to claim that the state provides about $1 billion in school funding through property tax relief, it generally has been dismissed by any serious Ohio school funding analyst. Why? Because that money doesn't go directly to school districts and kids; it goes to property taxpayers (who don't even notice the property tax cut is there, if they even know it exists at all).

The next big pot is reimbursements for Tangible Personal Property (TPP) and Utility (KWH) taxes. Prior to 2011, this payment also wasn't considered part of state support for public education, for much the same reason as the property tax relief. The reimbursement payments were created to get the support of schools during the massive tax reform included in 2005's House Bill 66. One of the reforms was eliminating the taxes on tangible personal property, or inventory. This hammered our traditional manufacturing plants, who invested heavily in equipment and inventory. However, the locally derived tax provided sometimes substantial revenue to schools and kids, so eliminating it would cause a huge cut to kids in many school districts.

So when the state created the Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) to replace TPP, the deal was it would make up for the lost TPP revenue with CAT revenue. And that was how schools ended up being OK with losing TPP. The idea was eventually that reimbursement would be replaced with something else, but until then, the state would uphold its word to schools and make the payments. So because this was simply a state reimbursement, school funding analysts also didn't count this payment as state support because the state chose to eliminate locally derived revenue with a state figure.

Until 2011.

That's when Gov. John Kasich eliminated the TPP and KWH taxes (gradually), all but eliminating what had been a $1.2 billion line item in the 2010-2011 school year. So now local districts lost state funding, so TPP and KWH reimbursements were now considered school funding cuts (as they would have been in 2005 if the state hadn't agreed to the CAT payments).

Finally, during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years, the federal stimulus gave Ohio about $450 million a year (on average) to help make up for lost state revenue due to the Great Recession. The idea was states would replace the stimulus money with state money once revenues returned post-Recession. So because this money flowed through Ohio's school funding formula, it's been considered part of the state's school funding commitment.

This is a long-winded way of getting to the issue: Beware of state leaders who claim that certain pots of money should be included as part of the state's school funding commitment, for comparison's sake.

I mention this because the Ohio Department of Education has produced a truly misleading graphic on its website (which I have posted at left) dubbed "Primary and Secondary Education Funding FY 2009 - FY 2019". In it, they try to show that Ohio's greatly boosted school funding during the last 8 years. While the political implications of that timeline are obvious, I'll just discuss the policy problems with their assertion.

First of all, the period is long enough that inflation matters.

For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a dollar in 2009 is worth $1.16 today.

In addition, it includes the property tax reimbursement as state education funding -- a figure that the vast majority of analysts would never include because it doesn't go to kids; it goes to adults who are property taxpayers.

Finally, the amount includes Lottery money, which is OK, except the amount has increased by more than 50 percent. Why? Because of VLTs and other gambling opportunities that have increased since 2011.

So if you wanted to look at money that went directly to kids (and didn't supplant GRF the way the lottery does), then you need to look at GRF, TPP reimbursement and stimulus. Those are the funds that directly fund schools.

When you do that, and build in the inflationary adjustments for each year, you'll see quite a drop in state funding for Primary and Secondary Education since the 2009-2010 school year -- $863 million, in fact.

Even if you include all the so-called funding pots ODE includes, it's a $664 million inflationary cut to Primary and Secondary Education.

Which points out the challenge for Reps. Patterson and Cupp. In order to keep pace with the Great Recession spending on education, they have to boost funding by nearly $1 billion. And they have to do it with a new Governor whose only stated K-12 initiative was to boost some poverty funding and provide a more "equitable system" (the problems with equity minus adequacy, I've discussed before).

But that doesn't mean what these state reps are doing isn't important. What it does mean is we citizens must insist that the rest of the state's leadership follows through on their good work.

And above all, it means that we all keep our collective eyes on that pesky school funding ball.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Brenner School Funding "Fix" Gets Courtesy Hearing

Within the first couple months of the 2017-2018 legislative session, state Rep. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, introduced a new Ohio school funding plan.

As chairman of the House Education Committee, people logically thought this might be a serious attempt to fix Ohio's long-broken school funding system. And while I pointed out how absurd the plan was -- essentially giving huge influxes of cash to privately run charter and largely religious private schools while cutting funding to most local public school districts -- the plan's introduction was treated seriously be many in the media.

However, the bill -- HJR 3 -- had zero co-sponsors.

Not a one.

I thought that would be a big tell about this plan's viability and quality.

Then, in an embarrassing rebuke of the House Education Chairman's authority, the bill was sent to the House Finance and Appropriations Committee, not Brenner's committee. School funding bills should generally go to finance. But out of respect for the committee chair, one would think his big school funding bill would be sent to his committee.

Yet it wasn't.

What does all this inside baseball mean?

Well, it means that instead of being able to talk about his school funding plan for nearly two years in his own committee, drumming up support, Brenner will be given a single hearing tomorrow in the Finance committee -- a hearing that's required by House rules for all pieces of legislation filed prior to July of even years. Even the crazy bills that have zero chances of passing.

So the House Education Committee Chairman can only get a single, required hearing for an overhaul of the state's school funding system, which has been declared unconstitutional four different times.

That, my friends, is a legislator with zero clout.