Thursday, March 11, 2021

Let's Talk Charter Schools

Let's discuss charter schools -- a topic you've seen a lot of on this blog over the years, but has kind of gone away recently for obvious (COVID) and non-obvious (Vouchers/School Funding) reasons.

Despite House Bill 2, which was supposed to slim down our notoriously poor-performing charter school sector and the closure of the nation's largest online school -- ECOT -- which closed because the school literally stole hundreds of millions of tax dollars to educate kids they never educated, we are currently spending more on charter schools than any other year on record. 

By a mile.


According to the latest Charter School funding report from the Ohio Department of Education, we are set to spend $999.7 million. The previous record was $955 million from the 2015-2016 school year -- the high-point of the ECOT years.

Despite this massive recent increase (an extraordinary $111 million jump ... over two years), it's not because we've had more students attending charters than ever. 

No. That record remains the 2013-2014 school year when 122,130 students attended charters. 


It's because Ohio politicians have continued bumping up the per pupil amounts flowing to charters. So now kids in Ohio charters, on average, get nearly $8,500 per pupil in state aid -- about double what that same kid would receive in a local public school.

As I've recounted for more than a decade, because of the way we fund charters, that means that local property taxes have to subsidize charter school kids.

It doesn't take a Ph.D. in Rocket Science to understand that if you're removing $8,500 in state aid from a district for a kid the district was only getting about half of that from the state to educate that the difference has to come from somewhere.

This year, that subsidy is slated to be $148 million. And in some districts, it's really high. Like in Columbus where $62 million in local revenue has to subsidize the state funding deduction for charters. 

As an aside, this local subsidy problem could be fixed with House Bill 1, which would directly fund charters and vouchers, among other great things.

Anyway, don't be shocked when you start hearing charter school proponents talk during this budget cycle about charter funding "equity". 

By the way, "equity" in this sense means equality, not the equity you and I think about -- like making sure kids from disparate backgrounds and challenges receive the additional supports they need to succeed. No. When charter folks say "equity", they mean the state should pay charters what districts get from state and local revenue. 

Just keeping it real.

Anyway, the data demonstrates pretty clearly that charter schools have plenty of money right now to educate their kids. Why? Because they don't have to adhere to 150 plus state regulations, pay for buses and pay their teachers 40% less, on average, than districts with leaner benefits.

So you don't have to spend nearly as much in a charter as you do a district.

Want proof?

Let's look at the state's annual expenditure report.

Last year, here's what the average charter and district spent per pupil in six categories: Overall, Instruction, Pupil Support, Staff Support, Operation Support (buildings and buses) and Administration.


Interesting, isn't it? Charters, overall, only spend about $386 less than a school district, even though school districts raise local revenues. Something even more amazing? If you had charters spend what districts did on administration, they could spend what districts do on instruction and pupil support, and have $397 remaining! Which means they could actually spend what districts do in every category but operation support -- not a major issue because charters don't bus many, if any, kids. 

If only charters spent the same 14% of their revenue on non-instructional administrative costs rather than the 24% they currently spend.

I ask you, dear reader, do you think that charter schools need more money? Or more efficiency? 

Hmmm. Where have I heard THAT before? Oh yeah. From charter school proponents about local public school district spending. 

Anyway...

Oh yeah. One more thing. Here's a list of all A-C charter school state report card grades ever earned. 


I give you this overall horrible performance for you to mull over as the state considers investing more than $1 billion in this education sector that's produced more state report card grades of F than all others combined since we've had the A-F system.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Next Speaker Could Be Author of New School Funding Plan. Phoenix Rising?


State Rep. Robert Cupp
State Rep. Rick Carfagna
Apparently, one of the leading names to come out of the Larry Householder collapse amid the state's largest ever, $60 million public bribery scandal is Robert Cupp. Yes THAT Robert Cupp -- the Cupp in the Cupp-Patterson school funding plan.

While I had some reservations about the plan -- namely its equity and some basic calculations -- it is undoubtedly the best school funding plan to come around in over a decade and would put us in a much better school funding place than we are today.

The plan had significant legislative support, but never from Householder, who was (correctly) concerned about the plan's equity.

So does this mean the Cupp-Patterson could soon rise from the ashes if Cupp is sitting in the Lincoln Chair?

Before you get too excited, Cupp isn't the only rumored name out there. Another is State Rep. Rick Carfagna. I don't know what he knows about K-12 funding, but I worked with him on the state's higher education budget last cycle, and I came away impressed.

He listens.

He learns.

He spent several meetings trying to educate the higher education subcommittee on finance (which he chairs) about how higher education funding works -- not an easy task.

While he wouldn't have the instant, deep knowledge of school funding that Cupp does (the state's district profile report that outlines data for every school district in the state bears his name), I'm sure Carfagna would be willing to listen to the school funding needs of this state.

Just not sure it would happen this year.

As for Cupp, his choice would be very interesting. If he's picked, one way the House could begin to  put the Householder mess behind them is to pass the Cupp-Patterson education reform plan. Do something Householder was opposed to (for the right reasons, I might add, but still...) while doing something big and bold for kids and families.

It would certainly change the topic.

The plan's fate in the Senate is less certain.

But passing the Cupp Patterson plan through the House (it's already had tons of hearings) would be a major step forward for education funding in this state. And who better to push it through than one of the plan's namesakes?

Oh yeah. There's one final complication.

Cupp took $24,000 from First Energy.

Carfagna?

$0.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Larry Householder is as corrupt as the day is long. But on Education Policy, he fought the good fight.


Look, we all knew what we were getting into with Larry Householder's return to the statehouse, which effectively ended yesterday when he was arrested by the FBI as the ringleader of a $60 million bribery enterprise.

He had already left the speakership under a cloud of suspicion in 2004. And around Capital Square, it was pretty much assumed -- only partially in jest -- that if you wanted to get anything done, it had to be quick because his dalliances with corruption were sure to draw law enforcement attention.

No more was this felt than in my sector -- Education Policy.

Larry Householder has long been an advocate for fixing our state's broken education funding system, though (importantly) he never got it done. He has stood up for funding of poor kids and black and brown kids. He has been a voucher skeptic and called for the end of for-profit charter schools.

Yet he took tons of money from ECOT -- a for-profit school involved in a $200 million scandal that still dwarfs Householder's caper, by the way.

But it is on school funding that Householder really wanted to leave a mark. It's often told that he claimed it would take a "Perry County Speaker" to fix the problem first addressed by a Perry County judge in the DeRolph case in 1994.

He was the one resisting the Cupp-Patterson education funding plan, even though an overwhelming majority of legislators were for it, because he thought it didn't do enough for kids in poor districts -- a sentiment I shared.

He's also the one who kept the voucher expansion plan championed by state Sen. Matt Huffman from going through and insisted on direct funding of all vouchers so it wouldn't come directly out of school districts' bottom lines.

He didn't like Ohio's overtesting of kids, nor was he a fan of the state report card. He even publicly called out its bias against poor kids and black and brown kids. In fact, he said the reason people flipped out over the voucher expansion was because wealthy suburban schools were suddenly facing the issues that poor and black and brown districts have been facing for years.

Yes, he had a fondness for ECOT (and founder Bill Lager's campaign money). And that was a problem. But he famously called for the end of for-profit charter school operators, like Lager.

On education policy, Larry Householder was one of the few Republican lawmakers I've witnessed who not only got school funding, but wanted to do something real to fix it and had the power to do so.

But wow. Was he corrupt.

He's getting what he richly deserves. But I guess what I'll always think about Larry Householder -- whose prodigious political talent was eclipsed apparently only by his insatiable appetite for money and power -- is what a waste.

He could have fixed school funding.

He could have instituted a better, more reasonable testing and accountability system.

He could have brought sanity to our out-of-control voucher problem.

He could have eliminated the for-profit charter school operators who have ripped off taxpayers for three decades.

He could have done so many good things for schools, kids and parents. Instead, he preferred shaking down companies to maintain power.

It's a sad day for Ohio. But I'll think of Larry Householder's fall as another unfortunate and significant step backward in our state's four-decade-long struggle with school funding.

It's up to us to chart a new path forward. Hopefully with legislators who, like Householder, get school funding, but without the voraciously corrupt appetites.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Ohio Charter Schools get More Per Pupil Federal COVID Relief Money than Many School Districts Received in State Aid. What Gives?


Included in the $2.3 trillion CARES Act passed in March to cope with the COVID-19 crisis was something called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER. This fund set aside $13.2 billion for K-12 schools to cope with the new normal in preparing education spaces for COVID-19. Things like enhanced cleaning, or preparing online learning material, or maximizing spaces to ensure social distancing for potential return to school were the expenses contemplated for this money.

Every school qualified, including charter schools, for this money, some of which was passed out again last week. The money was and is essential to maintain public education through this crisis.

However, only charter schools would qualify for another program included in the CARES Act – the $669 billion Payroll Protection Program (PPP) -- a fund meant to keep small businesses and non-profits afloat during the economic shutdown. Public entities like school districts and local governments did not qualify for the program, which has been essential to keeping businesses from collapsing.

But charter schools, which are organized as 501c3 non-profits, did qualify.

So did their sponsoring organizations.

So did their management companies.

All tolled, a charter school could receive federal money four ways:

  1. Through ESSER, just like every school district in the country
  2. Directly to the school through the PPP
  3. Indirectly through their sponsoring organization through the PPP
  4. Indirectly through their management company (which could be non-profit or for-profit) through the PPP

This resulted in the typical Ohio charter school receiving as much as $817 in total federal CARES Act funding while the typical Ohio public school district only received $150.

That’s more than 5.4 times as much.

In fact, many charters received more per pupil federal aid through CARES Act funding than many public school districts received last year in state aid!

When schools that educate 90 percent of your children get 5.4 times less federal revenue to stay afloat than schools that educate 6 percent of your children, perhaps it's time to examine that federal revenue stream's equity.

Perhaps most outrageous is this result: Children in nearly 1 in 10 charters each received as much federal aid through the CARES Act as children in Columbus – Ohio’s largest school district – received in state aid this year!

There are other shocking incongruities. In no particular order:

  • Charter Schools received as much as $82.3 million in PPP funding either directly or indirectly. They only received $55 million in ESSER funding.
  • Of the bottom half of all districts and charters in per pupil CARES Act funding, only 9 were charters; 444 were districts. 
  • Meanwhile, 97 percent of Ohio charter schools were in the top half of total federal per pupil aid.
  • The top 98 per pupil federal revenue recipients were all charter schools, representing more than 1 in 3 Ohio charter schools.
  • Children in 2 of 3 Ohio school districts got less per pupil federal aid than children in the charter with the lowest total federal aid. 
  • Meanwhile, children in 116 charter schools got as much as $1,000 (or more) each in federal aid. Children in only 3 districts did (Bloomfield-Mespo in Trumbull County, Youngstown and East Cleveland -- the last two of which are state takeover districts). 
  • One charter school (SMART Academy) got as much as $26,000 per pupil in federal money. 

Not every charter school quadruple dipped. But some did. Here’s how it worked in some cases.

The Academy of Urban Scholars in Columbus

  • $108,961 through the ESSER aid that was available through the CARES Act to all Ohio schools. 
  • As much as $700,000 in direct aid from the PPP. 
  • Sponsored by the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, which received as much as $1 million in PPP funding, the relative share of which is $22,265. 
  • They are run by the National Center for Urban Solutions, which received as much as $350,000 in PPP funding -- $213,195 of which would have gone to the Academy.
  • That’s more than as much as $1.04 million in federal CARES Act funding for the school, which has 305 students, which works out to as much as $3,424 per pupil – about the same amount as each student received in state aid last year in Putnam County’s Ottawa-Glandorf Local School District.

There is even one charter school that quintuple dipped.

Village Preparatory School Woodland Hills

  • This school received $501,215 through the ESSER aid
  • They received as much as $1 million in direct PPP funding
  • Village Prep Woodland Hills was sponsored by the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation. Village Prep’s share of the up to $1 million Buckeye received from the PPP would be as much as $35,989.
  • Village Prep is run by the Breakthrough Schools, which received as much as $1 million in PPP funding. However, Breakthrough also has a fundraising arm called the Friends of Breakthrough Schools, which received as much as $350,000 from the PPP program. Village Prep’s share of the $1.35 million total between the operator and its fundraising operation would be as much as $234,668
  • Village Prep Woodland Hills received as much as $1.77 million in federal aid for its 493 students – as much as $3,594 per student, or almost the exact amount of state aid each student received in Tuscarawas County’s Garaway Local School District this year.

Others only triple dipped, but did so at large amounts.

KIPP Columbus

  • The school received $1,081,480 in ESSER funding available to all schools
  • The school also received as much as $5 million in direct PPP funding
  • KIPP is sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which received as much as $1 million in PPP funding, with KIPP’s proportionate share being as much as $256,987 of that
  • So for KIPP’s 1,373 students, it was able to draw down $6.4 million in federal CARES Act funding. That’s $4,638 per student, or as much as $1,379 more than what every student in Columbus received this year in state aid.

No school district could double, triple, quadruple or quintuple dip into federal revenue streams to help its students deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

But charter schools could, and many did.

It is unfair that charter schools – which have for years insisted they are “public schools” – be granted more opportunities to access federal funding than the schools that educate 90 percent of our children simply because of their corporate structure.

And this shows once again how Ohio charter schools are not really “public schools”.

When it benefits them to be considered “public schools”, they tap into those funds.

When it benefits them to be considered businesses, they tap into those funds.

One final reminder: Barely 30 percent of charter school grades are A, B or C. Meanwhile, about 70 percent of school district grades are A, B, or C. Yet the federal CARES Act is providing 5.4 times as much money to the schools that get 70 percent Ds and Fs.

Sometimes I wonder.


Note: “As much as” will be a shorthand for acknowledging that the CARES Act funding as currently reported through the PPP is being reported as a range between two dollar amounts. I reported data for the upper most amount and qualified it by saying “as much as” because the entity could be receiving less than that, but I wanted to explain how much it could be. I would urge the Treasury Department to release exact amounts for a more accurate dollar figure. The calculation was made in the following way: for charter schools, each school was searched for its ESSER funding and whether it is receiving direct PPP funding. Then each charter school’s sponsor, as listed by the Ohio Department of Education was searched. Then each charter’s operator was searched. If a sponsor or operator was found, then the amount granted to those entities were divided by the number of students each sponsor or operator oversaw in all the schools they sponsor or operate. Then each charter school was granted a proportionate share of that overall revenue based on the number of students they had. It was assumed that every dollar received would go to benefit each student through the retention of teachers and staff meant to help educate each student. There were 16 charter schools whose student populations weren’t reported in the state’s charter school directory, or were reported as having 0 students. However, every one of those schools received ESSER funding (a total of $1 million), with some receiving direct and indirect PPP funding. However, because the state didn’t report the student population, they were not included as part of the per pupil calculations utilized in this analysis.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

COVID-19 isn't like Kid Crud. So Maybe Returning to School Won't be a Disaster.


A month ago, I would have told you that sending a bunch of kids indoors into schools during a pandemic was nuts. Dangerous, even.

But then I started reading the literature. And now I'm thinking it may not be as nuts as I originally thought.

I think one thing we all have to deal with (especially us parents) is overcoming our well-founded belief that kids are disease vectors. This is something I (and probably many of you) have experienced over the years. Our kids go to school, come home with the sniffles and suddenly we parents are down for a week or two. Who hasn't explained a persistent cough, fever, sneezing as "kid crud"?

We all have.

Which is why it just seems common sense to think that getting these little disease vectors back in school during COVID would be a horrible idea.

But it appears that, at least with COVID, the "kid crud" prejudice may not be justified.

For example:

  •  One study  found that children were the initial source of infection among the families in about 8% of households.

  • Another study looked at staff and students at five Australian primary schools and 10 high schools and found that out of 863 people who were in close contact with someone with Covid-19, only two got it
  • Another study discovered that a 9-year-old who attended three different schools and a ski class while showing symptoms of Covid-19 didn't infect anyone, which would never happen if the 9-year-old were an adult. 
  • Likewise, British researchers have found only one COVID outbreak in the entire world that could be credibly said to have started in a school.
And while some express caution about these results, with the caveat that no one study proves anything, none other than the American Academy of Pediatrics -- a legendarily cautious and small c conservative organization -- came out and all but said that kids should go back to school buildings in the fall. According to one of the authors of the AAP's school guidance:
"This virus is different from most of the respiratory viruses we deal with every year. School-age kids clearly play a role in driving influenza rates within communities. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Covid-19. And it seems like in countries where they have reopened schools, it plays a much smaller role in driving spread of disease than we would expect."
The AAP recommends taking precautions, but it also says that the mitigating efforts should be geared toward returning kids to classrooms, citing the health concerns kids have with remaining isolated, as well as the fact that in-school learning is so much better, overall, than online learning.

Look, it's been tough for me to turn at all on this issue. Letting kids get together indoors in groups during a pandemic seems completely illogical to me.

But I also have learned to trust science. And the science is saying that physically returning kids to schools, with the attendant precautions (hand washing, mask wearing, socially distancing however you can and making sure you don't go to school sick and go home if you do get sick) may actually work.

This is basically the approach our Gov. Mike DeWine is now advocating, though he isn't mandating any school or district to return full bore this fall. I will be intrested to see how much of the Cares Act money he's willing to spend to help districts and schools cope with the post-COVID reality. But at least he recognizes there will be a need, though importantly he already admits that the new money won't be enough to cover the cost.

Typical Ohio education funding.

Anyway, I know lots of parents will still doubt. Their experience with "kid crud" is so ingrained that they are like I was -- doubting every single piece of evidence that says returning to school isn't as dangerous as our experience suggests.

But the science is telling us something different. And if we want science to govern our COVID response, it's incumbent upon us to let it.

Even when it says we may have to set aside our lifelong battle with kid crud. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Don't Sleep on Charter Schools



I know there's been lots of commentary and news coverage of vouchers lately.

However, I don't want anyone to forget about the massive charter school program we still have in this state.

Just because ECOT is gone doesn't mean our charter school problem is.

I'm going to post a bunch of charts for you to look at. In short, here's what they show:

  • This past school year was the first time in five years that charter school enrollment and the number of charter schools in operation increased over the previous year
  • This school year, 606 of Ohio's 612 school districts lost at least some funding to Ohio's charter schools -- that's a record 99 percent of school districts.
  • This past school year was the first time in three years that the state funding to charters eclipsed $900 million
  • Meanwhile, per pupil funding to charters has steadily increased every year since 2013, largely remaining unabated despite fewer students attending charters, with a record $8,393 per pupil this year, compared with the $4,846 in state aid kids in local public schools receive.
  • Likewise, a record $2.8 million per charter building was paid out this school year 
  • More than $400 million in local tax dollars had to subsidize charter schools this last school year because the state funding to them was so much more than kids in lcoal public schools receive



















So while the fallout from the historic charter school reforms from House Bill 2 and the collapse of ECOT led to definite movement down in terms of numbers of charter schools and enrollment in them, those trends started reversing this year. And despite those downturns, per pupil and building funding kept marching up and up. 

However, because of COVID, expect the enrollment and funding trends to continue going up. Why? Because the state won't be issuing a report card for this year and perhaps next year, though we'll see.

That will mean that charters in danger of closing for persistent academic failure will have at least a 2, maybe 3 year reprieve. Liekwise, charter sponsors in danger of losing their ability to run charter schools will receive a similar reprieve.

So that means that charters won't be closing as frequently (though COVID may force clsoures for non-academic reasons, and, in fact, that's why all but 52 of the 307 Ohio charter schools have closed over the years).

And need I remind everyone how poor charter school academic performance has been relative to local public schools.


So while vouchers deserve much of our attention, don't sleep on the budget hog that continues to be Ohio's Charter Schools. They remain a concern and drain on Ohio's state budget and kids' educational opportunities.





Wednesday, June 24, 2020

What If Ohio Re-Focused on Education away from Prisons?


I know I haven't done much on the historic protests around the country. But I wanted to kind of put in Ohio budget terms what their goals about de-emphasizing law enforcement spending could mean for our communities.

So I dug into some spreadsheets.

The Ohio Legislative Service Commission (one of Ohio's finest bureaucratic institutions) puts out a spreadsheet every year tracing Ohio revenue and spending since the 1974-1975 fiscal year. So it's possible to trace the historic legislative appropriations patterns for the last 35 years.

What's amazing to discover is that while Ohio's commitment to K-12 and (especially) higher education has dropped since 1975, the percentage of the state budget going to corrections has skyrocketed from 5 percent in 1975 to nearly 15 percent of the non-human services budget in 2021.

I am excluding human services because spending there has exploded due to changing Medicaid rules and state spending requirements over the last 35 years.

And while K-12 has dropped by about 3 percentage points, most of the transfer in priority to corrections has come from the state's higher education budget, which has dropped in state commitment by 25 percent. These are the two areas of the state budget that can actually prevent incarcerations.

The state has decided to triple the commitment to its prisons and drop the value it places on preventing people from going to prison by more than 10 percent.

What does this mean?

Very simply, it means that we have more prisoners. Which shouldn't shock anyone.

What if we changed the focus, though, and spent the same relative amount on education and prisons as we did 35 years ago?

The results are stunning.


That's right. Another $875 million for higher education and $518.4 million for K-12

What could that buy?

Let's look at higher education first.

An additional $875 million would:
  • Cover every student's tuition at every community and technical college in the state, plus every student's tuition at Central State and Shawnee State
  • Cover every student's tuition at Ohio State University and Cleveland State University
  • Allow for a flat, 29 percent tuition cut at every 4-year public university in the State of Ohio
Now K-12.

An additional $518.4 million would:
  • Allow school districts to cut property taxes on the typical Ohio home by more than $100 a year, on average
  •  Nearly pay for all the social-emotional, security and community liaisons called for in the Cupp-Patterson school funding model currently sitting in the House Finance and Approrpriations Committee
  • Pay for every teacher in Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus under the Cupp Patterson model
You get the idea. It would get us a lot. Without a single additional tax increase or new revenue stream. With simply the same budget priorities we had 35 years ago

Re-focusing away from incarcertaion and back on education, as we did 35 years ago, would provide tremendous benefits for our kids and communities. 

This is exactly what the protestors are asking us to do -- stop investing so much in law enforcement and instead invest in what we know reduces the need for law enforcement.

They have a point.

Re-emphasizing education as a funding priority would grant more folks greater opportunities at the American Dream, regardless of where they come from. That's what we should all get behind.