Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Home District Gets Hammered

I know that I tend to speak in abstracts when I blog on here, talking about how state policy affects education on a statewide level. But don't worry, I still have that local reporter mentality where I have to bring home a statewide issue and explain what it means at the local level.

Take School Choice. And take my home district -- Green Local Schools in Summit County.

Green is a very good school district. Even though about 1 in 5 of our kids are considered economically disadvantaged, our performance rankings put us up with Hudson and Revere in Summit County, who have far fewer demographic challenges. Our performance, given our make up, is a source of great civic pride for me.

We are certainly not the kind of district envisioned by Chief Justice William Rhenquist when he ruled in 2002 that the Cleveland Voucher program was constitutional because in large part“[a]ny objective observer familiar with the full history and context of the Ohio program would reasonably view it as one aspect of a broader undertaking to assist poor children in failed schools.”[i]

In no way could Green Local Schools be considered "failing." We're in the top 87% of school districts on the Performance Index Score. We have been Excellent with Distinction on the old Report Card and received As on graduation rates, meeting standards and value-added measures on the new one. We have some work to do on categoricals, but that's nothing different from what many districts learned under the new performance regime.

So can someone explain to me why my district is losing $700,000 this school year to privately run Charter Schools and private school vouchers? 

But this is what happens when you grossly expand a Voucher program beyond what people even need or want and create programs out of whole cloth, like the Peterson Voucher program. And remember that even from the beginning, the vast majority of these programs sent money to subsidize parents whose kids were never in the district in the first place. In fact, in Cincinnati only 15 of the 199 kids who took the Peterson Voucher last year actually left the district -- the rest were already in the private school. So Ohio taxpayers are now paying for a large chunk of the private educations of hundreds of Cincinnati kids.

But it doesn't stop in Cincinnati. There are now 60,000 Vouchers available through EdChoice. Does anyone honestly think there are 60,000 open seats in Ohio private schools. That's roughly the equivalent number of seats in Ohio's largest district, Columbus. So the sheer number available will mean that if the 60,000 Vouchers are ever taken (so far, only about a quarter of them have been used), they will overwhelmingly go to parents whose kids were never in the district. Even if you think we should punish school districts that are "failing" by taking money meant for them and giving it to private schools, do you think it's fair to punish these districts for "failing" to educate kids they were never charged with actually educating?

Remember too how we reported last year at Innovation Ohio that the expansion of Vouchers was going to now hurt districts that are not, in fact, "failing" in any substantive way? Well that's exactly what happened.

After two budgets and four years of exploding school choice, without any care for the quality of those choices, my sons have $111 less in state aid each than the state has promised them. Remember that there is zero evidence that Voucher schools perform appreciably better than the traditional publics, and in the 2011-2012 school year, all the kids Green lost to Charters went to lower performing Charters. 

So now Green kids have 4.5% less state aid. That's not just for my kids, but every kid in Green because of the explosion of School Choice, regardless of quality, that this Governor and General Assembly have implemented since 2011. 

Look, I'm not entirely against School Choice. But I think it should be an option if it's to allow families better choices for their children's education. Moving money to privately run entities that perform markedly worse? To me, that's indefensible.

Want to know what it means for my hometown? In the 2010-2011 school year -- the last year before the new crowd came to power -- Green lost $355,000 to Charter Schools and zero dollars to Vouchers. This year, it's $481,000 to Charters and $219,000 to Vouchers. What's that mean for Green? The amount being transferred out to privately run schools is the equivalent of just about a full mill of property tax. 

But Green isn't alone.

There were 35 districts that lost money to Voucher schools in the 2010-2011 school year. This year? Try 475. That's right, 475 of 613 school districts (or 78%, more than 3 out of every 4 districts in this state) are losing money to private schools through the current leadership's decision to expand Vouchers. There are nearly 14 times as many districts losing money to private schools today than four years ago.

Not even in Cleveland do Voucher schools outperform the local district. Can anyone argue with a straight face that removing $224,000 from Beachwood (which is what they are losing this school year) -- among the finest schools in the country -- is justified given Rhenquist's desire to rescue poor kids from failing schools? 

Overall, the state is sending nearly $144 million to private schools this year. In 2010-2011, that number was $78.85 million -- nearly half the amount.

Makes you wonder whether the case upholding Ohio's Vouchers in 2002 would have the same outcome today. Also makes me want to kind of find out.

[i] Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002).