Tuesday, February 3, 2015

When Equity Isn't Enough

Yesterday, Gov. John Kasich revealed his $72 billion budget (which is more than $20 billion more than the one I handled in 2009, but that's a different story). In it, Kasich calls for changes to the way Ohio's schools receive state revenue. It will lead to some districts getting cuts and others not.

“We are really trying to say we are trying to help those who can’t help themselves,” Kasich told the Columbus Dispatch. “For those that can help themselves, we need you to step up and help.”

First of all, it's the state whose responsibility it is to provide the funding for education in this state, not local taxpayers. That's what the Ohio Supreme Court ruled four different times. Districts need to ask the state to "step up and help." So that comment was insulting to the Ohio Constitution, not to mention the districts whose communities simply won't pass levies, despite years of trying.

But let's go beyond that and talk about what Kasich means. He's saying, essentially, that if you have the capacity to raise your taxes to pay more for schools than you are, then he's going to cut your state money to punish you. No word if he will then endorse the subsequent levy that will have to go on the ballot to replace that money. But that's the idea. Take money from districts whose taxpayers aren't paying enough and give it to poorer districts whose taxpayers are stepping up more.

The district-by-district runs are not yet out. And what Kasich says and what the runs end up actually doing have diverged quite a bit in recent budgets. But assuming that's the result -- that communities that have contributed more locally will get a bump at the expense of communities that have not, it seems like a push toward equity. And that's good, right? Well, not really.

The effort is meaningless because it's still inadequate.

When you admit that more than 1/2 of all districts will get cut under this plan, even though you're touting a "record" level of funding for schools (a highly dubious claim employing the fuzziest of math), something isn't right. And that something is that the state is not spending enough to properly fund schools.

The fact you are taking money from districts to fund other districts means you don't have enough to fund both. Period. It's inadequate.

And while I love the idea of equity, it doesn't matter if there's an inadequate amount of money to distribute. Here's a demonstration by way of example.

I am taking three of my friends to a $10 movie. I have $36 in my pocket, and no one else has anything. If I equitably distribute the money, we all get $9, but guess what? None of us get into the movie because it's inadequate to meet the ticket price. The only way any of us see the movie is if I decide to inequitably distribute the money so that two or three of us can see it. Maybe it's the two or three who really want to see it, or it's the two or three who help me out the most with babysitting my kids, or it's the two or three who make the least amount of money and can't afford to go without my help. Or I let one friend go without because I know he's got $10 in the console of his car. Whatever the reason, though, I'm pretty well deciding whose worthy of my inadequate amount of money. All of those are perfectly legitimate ways to decide who gets into the movie, but it misses the point. 

The essence of true equity is that everyone gets in, regardless of circumstance.

To finish my example, I need to find four more dollars. That's true equity.

What this silly analogy is trying to show that that you simply cannot have true equity without adequacy. This is a concept that Kasich and others simply don't either understand or don't want to face. Because it means that they will have to find a bit more money in the largest state budget of all time for the 1.7 million kids it's their responsibility to educate.

But it appears they'd rather punish kids in districts whose communities are fed up with paying local taxes to fund what is a state funding responsibility. And that, I suppose is what passes as fair.

Sure seems unfair to me.