Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Confronting EdChoice: A Chance for Public Education to Protect their Kids

You know I don't typically toot my own horn on this blog. I like to do my analysis, make my point (or points) and move on.

However, there is a crisis facing public education in Ohio. And that crisis is the EdChoice Voucher program. This is a program that when I left the legislature in 2010 cost taxpayers $60 million. It is now about $150 million, and it's only growing.

Unlike Charter Schools, when taxpayer money is used by private schools to subsidize their tuitions, the state doesn't audit how the money is spent.

But even worse than that, it hurts kids who don't take the voucher -- kids who tend to be less well off, less white and with more special needs.

Every kid in 3 of 4 Ohio school districts receive less state and local revenue because of this and other voucher programs. 

This is not just an issue for large, urban school districts. Only 1 poor, rural or small town district lost any money to EdChoice vouchers in 2010. It's now throughout our rural communities and the money has jumped from $10,400 in 2010 to more than $850,000 today. 

As districts face huge budget cuts in the coming school years, it behooves them to defend every dollar they can so their students have all they need to succeed. That's why the folks at Real Choice Ohio, which fought for years to help districts cope with charter school losses to great success, have started a series of workshops to help districts educate and inform parents nd their communities about the dangers of the EdChoice vouchers to their kids and other kids' futures.

The first pillar of these conferences deals with the overall problem facing districts and the kids theiy serve. I am helping to lead this pillar, complete with Power Point presentations and I will be moderating an all-star panel on the EdChoice and voucher problem next week.

Signing up is easy and cheap -- $100 for all 4 pillars, which covers 5 participants. I would urge any school district officials, teachers and parents who are concerned with the threat these voucher pose to public education to sign up and join us.

We must push back. Together. I look forward to working with all of you.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Vouchers Especially Hurt Poor Kids

As has been recently reported in the Columbus Dispatch and other places, a group of public education advocates is looking to sue the state over the EdChoice voucher system -- an argument I've been making for years.

But in the article, pro-voucher forces make a curious argument -- that those seeking to undo the harm voucher do to primarily poor and special need kids are actually trying to hurt those kids.

“It’s an all-time low for government school activists to try to rip low-income and special-needs students out of their schools right now,” said Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Values. 

“It’s clear that this special-interest group cares less about what’s best for kids, and more about their own narrow social agenda. Ohio’s EdChoice program is a lifeline to tens of thousands of families. It allows underprivileged and underserved children the opportunity to find an education that best meets their needs.”
First of all, it's not "government school"; it's "public school", which means our school. None other than Thomas Jefferson described it this way in the Land Ordiannce of 1785. "Public school" were Jefferson's words.

But I digress.

Here's the problem. Yes. It's true that poor and special needs students get vouchers and attend private schools using them. However, in order for that to happen, poor and special needs students in the public schools who don't take the voucher are left with fewer resources for their educations because the vouchers exist.

This is why, for example, as a state legislator I always voted against the special needs voucher that eventually became the Jon Peterson Voucher program. Because it set aside 1/3 of the money the state spent on special needs students to serve 3 percent of the special needs kids. So the voucher program would leave 97 percent of special needs students with only 2/3 of the money they needed.

Let's look at Parma with its 47% economically disadvanatged and nearly 2/3 minority populations.

Prior to losing voucher money and students, kids in Parma were slated to receive $13,663 per pupil in state and local funding for their educations. However, once all the vouchers were removed from the district, along with the students, kids in Parma only got $13,426. That's a $236 per pupil loss in total aid, which means there wasn't enough locally raised revenue to make up for the revenue these kids lost to the state's voucher programs.

So while some poor and special needs students certainly got vouchers, far more poor and special needs students in Parma got $236 less than they needed because of the vouchers.

In fact, in nearly 3 of 4 Ohio school districts, every poor and special needs student got less overall funding because of the voucher.

But what about those 1in 4 districts that saw greater per pupil revenue because of vouchers, you may ask? Well in those districts, the reliance on local property taxes increased as much as 10 percent, forcing those districts to tax themselves at higher rates to make up for the lost state evenue brought on by vouchers (all districts had to do this to some degree).

So in these districts (which also tend to be poorer), the need to go for levies increased at a substantially higher rate. Need I remind everyone that the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled four times that increasing reliance on local property taxes to pay for schools is unconstitutional?

I know I don't have to remind the folks who want to file this litigation because they're the same ones that won that major victory for kids in the late 1990s and 2000s.

So vouchers either directly harm poor and special needs students by cutting their overall education fudning, or force poorer communities to tax themselves at higher rates to make up for the loss of state aid from the state's voucher programs -- in clear violation of the Ohio Supreme Court's four rulings.

Oh yeah, and in 8 of 10 Ohio school districts where private voucher providers reside, the school district outperforms the private option by an average of 27 percentage points. When privates outperform districts, it's in 2 of 10 cases and by only 9 percentage points.

So not even the claim that these are better overall options for kids is true. But at leats those pushing for vouchers are willing to make sure that more than a million students in Ohio's public schools get fewer resources than they need. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

For-Profit Colleges Chew Up Ohio CARES Act Higher Ed Money

While much of the focus on the $2.3 trillion CARES Act has been on the K-12 funding provided in it, the $13.5 billion in higher ed money was also a large inevstment. However, according to data compiled by the University of Wisconsin, in Ohio, students in for-profit colleges have received more than double the amount of per student funding than students in Ohio's public and private, non-profit colleges and universities.

This is not the outcome that was needed.

Here is the average per student CARES Act funding by college type:

What's also interesting is private, non-profit colleges received more CARES Act, taxpayer funding than Ohio's public universities.

In fact, there is only 1 four-year public university of 14 (Central State) and 8 2-year public colleges (of 69) that received more CARES Act per student funding than the average for-profit college.

How for-profit colleges and private, non-profit colleges receive more per student CARES Act funding than public colleges and universities is shocking. One would think that public stimulus funding should benefit publicly funded institutions more than the non-taxpayer funded institutions.

But what do I know.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

State Hides the Ball on K-12 COVID Cuts

This is why I think people are driven nuts by government.

A couple days ago, Gov. Mike DeWine announced a $300 million cut would be coming in this school year for Ohio's K-12 school districts due to the COVID crisis. Very understandable. Absent the feds granting states flexibility on CARES Act stimulus money and doing another COVID rescue package for education, states and local governments, big cuts like what DeWine announced are expected.

We'll leave the debate over the state's $2.3 billion rainy day fund for another day.

But when DeWine's Office of Budget and Management (OBM) listed the district-by-district cuts ("runs" is what we call it in the biz), the percentage cuts didn't look all that bad. Between 1% and 2.8%. Given that $300 million is about 4% of the state aid handed out this last school year, that didn't jibe to me.

That's when I noticed that OBM was comparing the amount of money cut to all money being spent in a school district. That's all money spent. State, local and federal. So, yeah, it looks like the cut isn't that bad when you look at it that way.

But it's completely misleading. Why? Because the state has zero say in how much federal and local money is spent or raised in a district. So the state is taking credit for money it didn't send to or raise in the district.

I can honestly say I've never seen a district-by-district run expressed this way. Every other run I've seen has compared how much state money districts were receiving and how much they will be receiving now.

In fact, it's how DeWine put out his district-by-district runs last year during the budget. He compared his state funding increase (from wraparound services money) with the state funding schools received the prior year. That makes the percentage increase look bigger. If he compared it with a district's overall spend, the increase would have seemed smaller.

It's a budgetary parlor trick.

On the Surface, these Cuts Look Fair

So what's the real state cut, in terms that have always been used?

The average Ohio school district will get cut 5.9%, with some getting cut 55%. Half of districts will get cut more than 3.8%. Half get cut less.

But there is a silver lining to this. The largest percentage cuts are disproporitionately in wealthier, suburban communities. The smallest percentage cuts are in poorer communities less able to withstand them. So that 55% cut? It's in Rocky River in Cuyahoga County, which doesn't get much state funding anyway because it's so wealthy. Other major percentage cuts are in Upper Arlington (53.6%), Independence (51.4%) and Inidian Hill (47.9%). All tolled, suburban and wealthy suburban districts will absorb 41 percent of all the costs, even though they only make up about 17.7% of the state's foundation funding.

In Ohio's major urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, Youngstown), the typical cut will be 1.8%. The poorest, rural districts will get an average 3.1% cut.

So while those cuts in Ohio's most vulnerable communities will be less, they will still be meaningful. There just isn't enough money being sent to the wealthiest schools to Robin Hood the cuts for very long.

But Ohio's Most Vulnerable Districts Still Get Disproportionately Hurt

While the percentage cut in Ohio's most vulnerable communities is less than its wealthiest ones, because there just isn't enough money being sent to the the wealthiest districts to absorb all the cuts, the relative amount being cut in Ohio's most vulnerable communities is actually higher.

Let me explain.

The way education funding works in Ohio is the state figures out how much it should cost to educate kids in your district, then determines how much of that cost you should be able to pick up based on your property tax values. The state then picks up the rest. And while there are serious problems with the way Ohio does this because the state formula for determining the cost isn't an actual formula, that's the calculus.

The issue though is everything hinges on the ability to raise local money through property tax levies. Districts that raise more ("wealthier"), have less state money coming to them. Those that raise less ("poorer"), have more state money coming. (And there are districts that aren't "wealthy" that are classified as such, like Coventry and Danbury, but that's another topic for another post).

The problem with this system is when state cuts come to districts, poorer districts' budgets are far more sensitive to state funding losses because they raise so much less locally. So a relatively modest cut in a poor, rural Ohio district could mean that district now has to go out for a larger levy (which won't likely pass) or cut services. Meanwhile, even a larger cut in a wealthier district won't have the same impact because they could raise even a tiny additional levy amount to cover it.

So even though 40.9% of all the money being cut is coming out of wealthier districts, the relative cut is worse in Ohio's poorer communities.

For example, on average, Ohio's poor, rural districts would have to raise 15% more local money to make up for their cut than the average welathy, suburban district. Likewise, the average major urban district would have to raise a 36% larger levy to replace its lost state revenue than the wealthy, suburban district.

Rocky River's seemingly massive 55.2% cut? In actuality, they would have to raise a 0.88-mill levy to cover that loss. Meanwhile, even though Trimble Local in tiny Noble County only gets cut by 0.7%, -- the state's smallest percentage cut -- they would need a 1.55-mill levy to cover the cost. That's nearly double the levy needed to cover state costs from a community with a 40% lower median income than Rocky River.

Younsgtown would have to come up with nearly 2 mills of local levy money to cover their 0.8% cut. Lorain needs 1.55 mills to cover its 1% cut.

You get the idea.

Any Education Cut Hurts Vulnerable Kids Most. Period. Thats' Why We Need Federal Stimulus. Now!

So while DeWine did an admirable job trying to deflect a large chunk of these cuts onto the districts that could shoulder them best, because there simply isn't enough money being sent to the state's wealthier districts, the seemingly palty percentage of state funding cuts in Ohio's most vulnerable communities are still disproportionately burdensome to them.

It's simply a function of local ability to raise revenue to replace the state money.

This is why we need a real state formula and investment in education funding -- a task that seemed so possible pre-COVID and now seems like a pipe dream.

The other issue is timing.

These cuts, assuming they go through shortly, would be deducted from payments the state will be making to districts in May and June. There are 4 payments made in these two months, with one scheduled to be made tomorrow.

So over 3 payments, districts will have to absorb all the cuts.

While it's tough to do a district-by-district anylsis of this impact quickly, overall, the bi-monthly state payment to districts is about $336 million. So this cut will mean that instead of three bi-monthly payments at the end of this school year, districts will essentially only get two.

That could mean serious logistical problems for districts, which may have already made purchases or paid salaries that the payments were expected to cover. Now that they won't, what will happen?

This will be a quite concerning offshoot of these cuts.

And again these cuts are only for this school year. Next school year, expect more. And next biennial budget expect even more.

Unless the feds step in and free up CARES Act money and pass additional stimulus money. And the state taps its significant rainy day fund.

Until then, look out. Take cover. And pray.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Analysis: Ohio Schools Would Get Enough Stimulus to Cover About 30% of Expected Cuts. Maybe.

Tucked away in the $2.3 trillion CARES Act was about $14.3 billion for schools. And while that sounds like a lot, it's a relative pittance compared with the overall cost of educating America's 74 million school children.

But it wasn't nothing.

The Learning Policy Institute put out an analysis of how much each state would receive from that $14.5 billion. Ohio does OK. A little above the national average on a per pupil basis, but lower than all surrounding states except for Indiana.

More telling is this: That $547.9 million is just for one year. Ohio's budget is a two-year budget. And the stimulus money is only good through the end of this calendar year, which is only half of the current school year.

So while the $547.9 million infusion would equal about 7 percent of the total amount of money sent to Ohio's school districts through the state's funding formula next year (meaning it would theoretically cover a 7 percent statewide cut), the money would likely only go the districts through the end of the year, meaning that the state's next biennial budget would not have any of this stimulus money in it.

But let's assume states could pocket this money and put it into their budgets next year. This money represents about 25-30 percent of the cuts school districts are forecasting for next year, let alone over two years. So there needs to be a significant investment in education in the next COVID aid package. In fact, many school groups are asking for a $200 billion school package.

That amount should make up for the severe cuts being forecast in Ohio and elsewhere.

Some may talk about how great it is that the CARES Act provided money to schools. Believe me, I'd rather kids have this money than not, but keep in mind it's a small percentage of the expected cuts, and it may not even be allowed to be spent during the next biennial budget, which means it won't help cover any future school revenue losses.


Keep fighting.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Feds Hurt Kids with Latest CARES Act Maneuver

When the CARES Act passed last month, a large, $4 billion plus was slated to come to Ohio. There was a catch, though. It had to be spent on direct, non-budgeted, COVID-related expenses.

However, there is a huge need in replacing the lost revenue Ohio and local officials are feeling now that businesses are essentially at a standstill. Last month, state revenues were down $164.4 million from estimates, but remember that Ohio's stay at home order wasn't issued until March 22. So expaect a much greater fall off for this and future months.

The latest $450 billion federal bill that passed yesterday was supposed to have a provision in it allowing states and local governements to have flexibility on how that CARES Act money would be spent. In other words, allowing it to be used to fill the gaping revenue holes blowing away state, local and school budgets.

However, at the last minute, that flexibility provision was eliminated.

That means the $4 billion plus coming to the state from the CARES Act cannot be used to fill revenue holes for states, local governments or schools.

While that may mean we finally get statewide broadband access or something similar -- a new spend necessitated by COVID-related closures -- it would ignore the revenue shortfalls states, cities and schools will see.

How does this hurt kids?

Because we're starting to see stories about districts preparing for massive cuts next year. When you add the continuation of the hotly contested school voucher expansion, and places like Middletown are looking at millions of dollars in budget cuts next school year -- numbers that will only grow given the depth and breadth of this economic hit.

Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is suddenly concerned about budget deficits (mind you he did the previous stimulus bills and a $1 trillion tax cut without mentioning such concerns). If that holds, then the fourth round of stimulus money -- which everyone was banking on filling state budget revenue shortfalls this and and next budget cycle -- may be in jeopardy.

And if we don't have a fourth stimulus (education groups are seeking $200 billion nationally), then we could be looking at crippling school cuts that would make the 2011 cuts seem like a little finger splinter.

By way of perspective, during the 2010-2011 school year, more than 1 out of every 4 dollars the state sent to school districts was federal stimulus money. And this state revenue hole may be even bigger than the one from the Great Recession.

So you could be looking at 25-35% state budget cuts for schools. In some districts that can't raise much local revenue, that kind of funding loss would lay waste to communities, forcing some districts to consider closing, merging, or seeking other drastic measures. The hardest hit districts would be in Ohio's poor, rural communities -- Trump Country. Would Trump leave his core consitutency hanging out to dry during an election year?

We'll see.

But all who are concerned about kids must insist that whatever happens, states, local governments and schools have what they need to provide the services our families and kids need during this crisis. Playing political games at the height of this pandemic is political malfeasance of the highest order.

There now must be a fourth round of stimulus. And that money must be made available to states to fill the yawning chasm that will be created in their revenues next cycle, which for Ohio starts next year.

Call your member of Congress and our Senators. And tell them you want your kids to be as important to them as Wal-Mart and United Airlines.

And do it yesterday.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Charter Schools Again Want Their Cake and Eat It Too

For years now, I and other critics of Charter Schools have been regularly chastised for suggesting that charters are not really public schools, even though they are called public schools in state law. In fact, every judicial and quasi-judicial panel that's examined charters' organizational status has found them to be private actors, not public schools.

Now we discover that the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is telling charters to apply for the Small Business Administration Loans in the $2 trillion CARES Act that passed last month. Why is this significant? Because the NAPCS thinks that charters could qualify for the money -- money that is not allowed to be accessed by governmental entities. It is only for "non-governmental" entities.

Public schools cannot qualify for this money.

So if charters qualify for these low to no-interest SBA loans -- like a restuarant can -- then they are definitely NOT public schools.

Yet that would not keep charters from trying to also qualify for some of the $13.7 billion K-12 stimulus money included in the CARES Act, and additional federal stimulus money that will surely be included in further stimulus bills.

Once again, charter schools are gaming their squishy governmental structure. They want to access all the money available to them based on whichever form of governance benefits them -- whether that's as a non-governmental or governmental entity.

It would be outrageous if charters would be able to access SBA loans and additional stimulus for all schools. No other public school could do this.

And if they get SBA loans, that should be credited toward their other stimlus payments.

At least.