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Friday, June 23, 2017

Ohio Budget Keeps Progress on Charter Sponsor Evaluations.

Ohio's Charter School Sponsor Evaluation System has come a long way since it was introduced in 2012 as a way to track how sponsors' schools rate.

In Ohio, the state's more than 60 charter school sponsors are supposed to perform the oversight function reserved for school boards and the Ohio Department of Education on the traditional public school side. However, because Ohio is one of two states that let non-profits also sponsor schools, Ohio has been called the "Wild, Wild West" of charter school sponsoring ... by the national charter school sponsor advocacy group.

Ohio has recently tried to beef up its sponsor oversight. Now there are real consequences. If a sponsor doesn't score well, it can be stripped of its schools. If it does well, it can sponsor more and be freed of some regulation.

However, there has always been an issue with these ratings -- an issue I've discussed since House Bill 2 (which put the teeth into the ratings system) passed in 2015. There are three components to the sponsor evaluation system upon which sponsors are judged. They are:
  1. A sponsor’s adherence to quality practices
  2. Compliance with applicable laws and administrative rules
  3. Academic performance of its schools
Under House Bill 2, all three components were supposed to be weighed equally -- a calculation I saw as problematic because if a sponsor failed academically, but received As on the other two more bureaucratic measures, then they would average out to a B-. So sponsors that have academically failing schools could keep sponsoring them, while sponsors that received As in academics but didn't score as well on the other two could be kept from sponsoring more schools.

In a perfect policy world, you'd want your sponsors with the best academic ratings continuing to sponsor schools while sponsors with the worst academic ratings would be stripped of those schools.

The Ohio Department of Education tried to mitigate this issue through rule making, saying that if a sponsor failed any of the categories it couldn't open new schools (a process that seemed to me to be illegal because state law was pretty clear you couldn't weigh any one score more than the other, but I digress). However, that resulted in the highest academically rated sponsors (which were almost invariably public school districts or public education service centers) not being allowed to open new schools because they didn't do as well on the bureaucratic measures.

So you had the bad policy outcome of sponsors with the highest rated schools not being allowed to sponsor more simply because they failed to follow the bureaucratic measures.

In the current budget, which has been passed by the Ohio Senate and is now in Conference Committee, there has been a change to the system so that sponsors that fail in bureaucratic measures but excel in academics aren't automatically stopped from sponsoring more charters. 

This is a positive step because now state policy won't stand in the way of sponsors with high performing schools from taking control of more schools because they don't fill out paperwork well.

However, there was another tweak that will weigh value added measures more heavily in the academic rating prong. What does that mean? 

Value added measures sound good in theory (giving schools credit from improving kids' scores rather than simply looking at raw scores), but there are well founded issues with value added scores too that make their evaluative use questionable in some cases, especially as smaller populations of students are used. 

In general, charter schools' value added grades on the state report card tend to be better than their proficiency scores. So will the change in academic scores show better performing schools among more sponsors? Probably. Will that mean that more sponsors will be able to keep sponsoring schools because their academic ratings will be artificially boosted by this tweak? We'll see.

As with most Ohio Charter School issues, the answer will likely be murky, complicated and need a fix in two years. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cleveland Charter Schools Once Again Proven Outlier.

A newly minted study from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) -- an outfit connected to Stanford University -- shows what we have known in Ohio for quite some time: Charter Schools in Cleveland are doing better than charter schools elsewhere in Ohio.

As part of CREDO's study on Charter Management Organizations (CMOs), which found that for-profit CMOs are doing worse than non-profit CMOs, CREDO found that the Breakthrough School network in Cleveland provided a benefit of 148 extra days in math and 120 in reading. While there are serious academic questions about CREDO's methodology for determining these "days" of learning (for a good back and forth, look here), the CREDO study confirms what has been known here for a long time -- Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland are Ohio's gold standard.

This is why I've contributed to the chain and attended several of their fundraisers. My son won their Superhero race one year, in fact.

The issue is they only run 10 out of the 373 charter schools listed in the Ohio Department of Education's charter school operator database. Yes, CREDO found that other Ohio operators are doing a good job, but, again, a small percentage of Ohio's charter school students are in those schools.

The study did re-affirm what I've been saying for years -- that David Brennan's White Hat Management is awful at running schools, though pretty good at making lots of money. Their Life Skills Academies -- a dropout recovery group that has trouble graduating even 8 out of 100 students -- are particularly awful.

Here's another issue, and it's one I've brought up before. Breakthrough doesn't take all of its kids from Cleveland. Yet their performance is almost always compared with Cleveland Municipal Schools'. Breakthrough takes just shy of 20 percent of their kids from outside Cleveland. And they require large amounts of paperwork to be filled out by parents, which kind of self-selects for involved parents -- the single greatest predictor for kids' academic success.

Many of the non-Cleveland kids come from Warrensville Heights and East Cleveland -- districts that struggle with state tests like Cleveland. But the fact remains that Breakthrough has a far smaller percentage of kids from Cleveland than Cleveland schools do, and they have kids whose parents are willing to fill out lots of paperwork.

Yet they're compared with Cleveland kids whose parents may never have stepped foot in a school since their own high school days. This has been a burr in my saddle for years, despite my tremendous respect and support for what Breakthrough's John Zitzner has done in Cleveland.

The other interesting thing from the CREDO study is they only looked at CMOs that run several schools. That means they didn't include Altair, which runs the nation's largest K-12 school -- the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow and its 15,000 students. Though given the Ohio Department of Education's recent ruling, that number may be closer to 6,000.

But how poorly would CREDO have found online education to be (which it found to be the worst of all charter school types) if ECOT's putrid performance were included?

I know it's encouraging to hear that some charter schools in Ohio are doing a good job. That's never been something that hasn't been said, though. In fact, I've pretty much always said this. The issue is with a nearly $1 billion a year program, we should be getting a better statewide bang for the buck rather than just a couple handfuls of schools mostly in Cleveland.

Put another way, is it worth kids in Columbus and Cincinnati losing about a quarter of their state funding each year and Ohio's public school kids overall losing an average of about $250 a year in state money due to charter school funding so that a couple dozen successful schools can operate mostly in Cleveland?

Again, the role of state lawmakers is to look out for all Ohio kids, not just the small sliver that have found a successful experience in alternative education programs. We need state leadership who is willing to put as much blood, sweat and tears into figuring out how to improve the educational experiences of the 90 percent of Ohio schoolchildren who are in Ohio's public school districts as they currently do for 10 percent who do not.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ohio Data: Vouchers Failing

I don't like writing these things. I really don't. Because even when a policy I think is folly actually works, I'm glad that kids are able to benefit.

But the latest data, both from Ohio and nationally, demonstrate pretty clearly that private school vouchers simply aren't working. In fact, they are making things worse for kids both in private, mostly religious schools, and those who remain in local public school districts.

At Innovation Ohio, we released a report today that details many of the issues. Among them:

Vouchers now affect schools and children in 83 percent of Ohio’s school districts

More than $310 million will be spent this school year sending public money to private, mostly religious schools through vouchers

Including additional direct state payments and reimbursements made to private, mostly religious schools, more than $568 million in Ohio taxpayer money is going to support these schools

Every Ohio student not taking a voucher, on average, loses $63 a year in state funding because of the way Ohio’s lawmakers have decided to fund vouchers ($63 is about $15 more per pupil than we spend statewide on instructional and non-instructional equipment combined. It’s about the cost of a new Amazon Fire tablet.)

In an era of the state providing less funding for public schools, its insatiable investment in private school vouchers force local taxpayers to subsidize them with $105 million in locally raised money to make up for districts’ state funding losses to Ohio’s voucher programs

Students who take vouchers perform worse than their public school peers on state assessments

Some of the highest performing school districts in the state lose money and students to vouchers, turning the original intent of the program on its head

In Ohio, we call vouchers "scholarships". However these "scholarships" require no actual scholarship to acquire. There are no GPA or other academic requirements to receive a voucher. All that matters is if you meet the demographic characteristics. This is a voucher program.

The Ohio Senate and House are considering bills that would expand voucher eligibility to 75 percent of Ohio's school children, despite the overwhelming evidence these vouchers aren't helping. And, of course, current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a huge voucher supporter, and President Trump's initial budget calls for a $1.4 billion voucher expansion, with plans to move that up to $20 billion shortly.

And here's something I'm very curious to understand: if the Cleveland voucher program was deemed constitutional 15 years ago because it was small, was meant to "rescue" kids from "failing schools" and financially provided far less state aid to private, mostly religious schools (as Chief Justice William Rhenquist opined during the case), then would it now pass the same muster given that it's a $310 million program, takes money from some of the highest performing schools in the state, and some vouchers provide almost the exact same level of base funding as the state's public school formula?

We'll see.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ohio Senate Tries to Sell Cuts as Increases

I'm growing weary of writing this stuff, but the Ohio Senate has once again misled Ohio taxpayers by claiming increases in school funding. The Senate's version of the budget bill actually cuts funding to Ohio's 613 school districts by about $70 million over the Ohio House's meager addition.

All the Senate has done is revert the funding levels to what Gov. John Kasich proposed, which represented about $900 million less in total, inflation adjusted dollars over this biennium compared with the budget that passed during the Great Recession.

Once again, I also have to take issue with Randy Gardner -- a Senator with whom I worked pretty well while I was in the House. He and his friends always tout how there is an historic level of state aid going into public schools.

What he fails to address is that while the state aid funding line has gone up, the overall aid has not kept pace.

You always have to watch how careful politicians in the General Assembly and Governor's mansion talk about school funding. It's always about one aid line, not all aid lines. It's like if you have two jobs and income from one has gone up 50%, but income from the other has dropped 75%. The overall result is a 25% cut.

All you need to know about how inadequate Ohio's school funding system is is to look at the monkeying they do to it. Playing around with how much school districts are guaranteed to get, or what funding cap needs to be instituted to keep increases down tells you there isn't enough money to pay for the formula.

Oh, and the formula itself? Simply a product of arbitrary increases done to a calculation last completed 10 years ago.

Another budget cycle is about to pass with the state failing to live up to its constitutional obligations to our kids. When will this end?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Nation's Largest For-Profit School In Danger of Closing.

Well, the State School Board has voted 16-1 to recover $60 million from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- the state's first and largest online K-12 school. That's because ECOT can't prove it actually educated $60 million worth of kids out of its $105 million it got last school year.

If this percentage were spread over ECOT's 17 school years and more than $1 billion paid, the state could have paid nearly $600 million in taxpayer dollars to the school for kids that were never there. The sheer amount of funding at stake here is staggering.

And it would be one thing of ECOT were doing a bang up job educating children. However, its performance is abysmal and fails to graduate more students than any other high school ... IN THE COUNTRY.

As I said on this weekend's State of Ohio broadcast, I think ECOT should close because it has failed to meaningful improve the state's educational landscape and it's fleeced taxpayers of more than a half billion dollars since it opened in 2000-2001.

But before we give credit to state policymakers for doing their jobs (finally), let's remember why ECOT's been allowed to fail: Political contributions. Its founder, Bill Lager, has given more than $1.8 million to politicians over the last 17 years -- more than $1.5 million of that to Republicans, according to FollowtheMoney.org.



Gov. John Kasich's first address to a graduating Ohio high school class was before ECOT in 2011. ECOT has hosted numerous other political heavy hitters during that time.

Only after the shame of being associated with a nationally ridiculed school like Lager's became unbearable, and their public thievery obvious, did Lager's minions gather their spines.

This is something we cannot forget as we move forward from this shameful episode in Ohio's education policy history.


Monday, May 15, 2017

ECOT Circling the Drain

When the usually very charter school friendly Columbus Dispatch editorial page says your charter school is fleecing Ohio taxpayers, you're in trouble.

That's exactly what happened this morning to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- the nation's largest K-12 school that fails to graduate more students than any high school in the country.

Here's a sampling of the Dispatch's language used to describe ECOT's plan: "attempted plundering of the treasury ... for sheer audacity there is no precedent ... raiding the state treasury ..."

Shall I go on?

At issue is whether the online behemoth is, actually, a behemoth after all. See, the state cannot verify that the school has all 15,000 or so students it claims to have. In fact, the school has about 40 percent of that number, as far as the Ohio Department of Education can tell. And a hearing officer agreed last week, ordering ECOT to repay $64 million of the more than $100 million it received from Ohio taxpayers last year because it didn't have as many kids.



ECOT supporters have long said that the way the state calculates attendance at online schools is unfair to ECOT. Yet, somehow, no other online schools (which are not the best performing in the state, by a long shot) are doing this to this degree.

Obviously, ECOT officials will try their bullying tactics to keep, as the Dispatch called it, "raiding the treasury." They held a modest rally at the statehouse last week, which was notable for two things -- competing mascots, and the fact that no major politicians showed up, a stark contrast to several years ago when Gov. John Kasich spoke at ECOT's graduation and spoke effusively of the school.

As ECOT's power wanes, it appears that not even the school's once strong advocates, who were willing to take millions of founder Bill Lager's money to fund their campaigns will stop by to say, "Hi." Quite a turn of events.

And quite a step forward for Ohio's quality-based school choice movement.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The GREAT Scholarship -- A first for Ohio cities

I haven't posted much on here about my second (or, technically THIRD) life as a City Councilman in Green. Typically, my life as an Education Policy guy and City Council don't really cross paths. One job fixes road, bridges and sewers. And the other deals with education.

Bad Catskills jokes aside, there aren't many times when Education Policy meets Municipal Policy, especially in a city like Green that isn't huge and whose mayor doesn't actually run the schools.

Well, I changed that this week when I introduced an ordinance that would create the Green Reaches Educational Attainment Together Scholarship. Yes, its acronym is GREAT.

The idea is to provide $2,500 annual scholarships to first-generation students from Green as long as they maintain a 2.5 GPA in Green High School and in college (either two-year or four-year).

For years, Ohio (and other states) have cut their commitment to its higher education system, forcing families and students to go deeply into debt to pay for the college education more and more of our young people need to thrive in this 21st Century economy.

We've known for a long time that first-generation students tend to be the most at-risk for not attending college, not finishing college and having to pick up the most outside employment to pay for it.

And that doesn't even touch the fantastic economic development tool this would provide to our communities. For example (this is according to the same studies cited previously):


  • Lifetime taxes are, conservatively, $273,000 (215 percent) greater in present discounted value. 
  • Lifetime government expenditures are about $81,000 (39 percent) lower in present value. 
  • The lifetime total fiscal effect is roughly $355,000 in present value. 
  • Crime is significantly lower. 
  • Volunteering is 2.3 times more likely. 
  • The estimated value of volunteer labor is 4.1 times ($1,300 annually) greater. 
  • Employment in the nonprofit sector is twice as likely. 
  • Annual cash donations to charities are $900 (3.4 times) higher.
  • Total philanthropic contributions are $3,600 (4.7 times) higher.
  • Voting and political involvement are significantly higher. 
  • Participation in school, community, service, civic and religious organizations is substantially (1.9 times) higher. 
  • Leadership in these organizations is particularly (3.2 times) greater. 
  • Attendance at community meetings is 2.6 times greater. 
  • Neighborhood interactions and trust are significantly higher. 
I'm proud that my friends at the Fordham Institute (with whom I have quarreled over the years) have shown support for this, as are my local school folks. If you feel this is something cities should do for economic development and other reasons, please contact my city's mayor and city council members.

I am more than willing to change or tweak areas that need fixed. That's the legislative process.

Here are their email addresses:

James Ahlstrom
jahlstrom@cityofgreen.org

Chris Humphrey
chumphrey@cityofgreen.org

Ken Knodel
kknodel@cityofgreen.org

Justin Speight
jspeight@cityofgreen.org

Skip Summerville
jsummerville@cityofgreen.org

Bob Young
byoung@cityofgreen.org

Mayor Gerard Neugebauer
GNeugebauer@cityofgreen.org


Monday, May 8, 2017

Real Choice Ohio


It's been a couple years now, but nearly 100 Ohio school districts have sent the Ohio Department of Education invoices for all the money the state has diverted from kids in public school districts to charter schools.

Out of that group grew an organization that calls itself Real Choice Ohio -- a grassroots organization that is meant to help districts re-capture their students from Ohio's mostly failing charter schools.

They are holding a conference on Friday from 9-3 at the Ohio School Boards Association. I'll be presenting at 1 about charter performance. Here's the full agenda: https://www.scribd.com/document/347724540/Real-Choice-Ohio-Conference-Agenda-May-12-2017

I would urge any school leaders interested in figuring out how to rescue their students from Ohio's mostly failing charter schools to attend the conference. This is the beginning of what I hope will be a more effective, practical response to Ohio's charter school challenge -- give parents the information they need to make the best possible decision for their kids and their future.

What's a Baseline: Why Most Reporting on School Funding Falls Short

Since the Ohio House of Representatives passed its unbalanced budget about two weeks ago (an issue I'll take up in another post), I've been watching the reporting on its school funding provisions. No surprise. The focus has been on how the House version provides (slightly) more funding than Gov. John Kasich's budget.

Kasich's budget was compared with what districts received in the previous year.

Look, both of those stories tell us something. But they miss the point. And this is no knock on the reporters. They are doing what they've always done -- compare the current budget with the one immediately proceeding it.

This approach, though, misses the mark. Here's how. In 2007-2008, we went through the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. That resulted in huge revenue shortfalls for the state and its communities -- a shortfall that wasn't just an Ohio problem. It was a United States problem. However, the federal government stepped in to shore up those shortfalls, with the thought that once the economy snapped back, states would use the new revenue in place of the federal assistance.

But that's not what happened in Ohio and other states. Instead, they used the lack of federal funding as an excuse to cut funding to education and other services. Oh, and to cut taxes for primarily rich people. And in Ohio, the new Governor also eliminated nearly $1 billion in additional state resources that had been promised to schools after the state eliminated a tax upon which many districts had come to depend. And this doesn't include the explosion in the diversion of school district dollars to privately run charter schools and private school vouchers.

To me, the baseline has always been the Great Recession budget. For if you aren't providing more funding for kids than you did in the toughest economic time in 80 years, then your funding scheme probably doesn't meet the "thorough and efficient" clause of the Ohio Constitution.

What does it matter if this version of the budget provides slightly more funding than the one immediately proceeding it, if that version was demonstrably inadequate?

This is why when I and Innovation Ohio compare school funding numbers, we will always use the Great Recession as a baseline, adjusted for inflation. Because I and we believe that if Ohio can't provide kids more than what the state did during the Great Recession, the system is wholly inadequate.

So even with the "boost" from the House, this budget provides $828.6 million fewer to Ohio school districts over this biennium than during the Great Recession budget. In the last year of this budget, about 400 of 613 school districts will receive fewer dollars than they did during the last year of the Great Recession budget.

This is including all revenue headed to districts, which answers the ultimate question at the end of the day: What do kids in public schools get when everything's included?

So whenever you see my budget data, or Innovation Ohio's, it will generally be compared with what children received during the Great Recession. And it will likely result in children receiving fewer resources than they did during that awful economic period.

Until it doesn't.

Given our state's recent history, you'll be excused if you decide not to hold your breath until that happens. But until it does, we will hold our elected officials to that, I think, minimal standard.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ohio House Takes My Advice and Moves Ball Forward on Charter Accountability

State Rep. Robert Cupp, R-Lima
It's not often that I can say that one of my ideas was adopted by the Ohio House of Representatives. I tend to be the wrong party for such occurrences. So when it does happen, I have to point it out with some pride and gratitude.

In the House version of the biennial budget (House Bill 49), House Republicans inserted a subtle, but important provision in the state's new charter school sponsor evaluation system that will result in, I believe, more accurate assessments of how sponsors do their jobs.

(For those of you who don't know, sponsors are typically non-profits, schools or other entities that oversee charter schools' operations. It has traditionally been sponsors who have fallen asleep at the switch as Ohio's charter schools became a national laughingstock for performance and accountability.)

The current evaluation system says that sponsors will be graded based on three elements: how their schools perform academically, how well they adhere to state operational guidelines and how well they adhere to national standards, as developed by the charter industry. They receive a rating of "exemplary", "effective", "ineffective" or "poor". If they are at the high end of the spectrum, they have more freedom to open new charters. If they're at the low end, they could be shut down.

he problem has been that sponsors that performed really poorly on academics could still receive relatively high ratings as long as they dotted their i's and crossed their t's on the more bureaucratic measures. Likewise, sponsors with really high academic ratings were classified as ineffective because they didn't dot i's and cross t's as effectively.

My thought, as I've said in multiple forums since the sponsor evaluation system was adopted several years ago, was we should weight academics more than the other two sections. And if the sponsor fails to do well on the bureaucratic measures, it shouldn't knock them all the way down the scale if they're doing stellar academic work.

Under the House version, which was put forward by House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Robert Cupp, R-Lima, (who is chair of the same subcommittee I chaired in 2009) charter sponsors will no longer automatically receive bad ratings if they don't dot i's or cross t's. And the sponsors' schools' academic performance will now count 60 percent more than the other two sections.

What does this mean? It means the sponsors that currently have A grades for academics (all of these are school districts and one Educational Service Center, by the way) will no longer be deemed "ineffective" because they don't dot their i's effectively. They'll be considered "effective" or "exemplary" because the students over whom they have authority are doing well.

Likewise, sponsors that are currently deemed effective because they dot i's really well but receive Ds on their academic ratings will be less highly rated.

This will encourage sponsors to take more care with their schools' academic performance -- the heart of their mission -- because it will matter a lot more to their rating. So in that way, the House budget moves the ball forward on charter school accountability, even by a little bit. And for that, I, and the parents and students of Ohio, am and are grateful.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Education Chairman Andrew Brenner Stands Up for Failing E-School Giant

House Education Committee Chairman Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, is at it again. This time, he's proposing a change to Ohio's charter school evaluation system that would primarily benefit the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), the nation's largest K-12 school and among the nation's worst performing.

He's doing this by proposing to lessen the impact the number of students at a charter school plays on the academic performance rating of a charter school sponsor. Sponsors are supposed to oversee Ohio's privately run, publicly funded charter schools.

Under the state's sponsor evaluation system, sponsors are rated either Exemplary, Effective, Ineffective or Poor based on three criteria: How their schools perform, how well the sponsor adheres to state regulations and how well they adhere to industry-created operating standards.

Under the academic rating, schools' performance is weighted by how many kids are in the school. So if a sponsor is responsible for 20 schools, but 90 percent of the students are in one of them, that one school's academic rating counts more than the other 19. Brenner's change would mean all 20 are counted the same, even if 90 percent of the students are in 1 school.

ECOT's current sponsor is the Education Service Center of Lake Erie West, which has an F in academic performance, driven in large part by ECOT's horrific academic performance. Lake Erie West risks its ability to sponsor future charters, or even its current portfolio, if it continues with these poor ratings. Which means it has an incentive to dump ECOT, even though the sponsor receives more than $3 million a year just from state mandated fees it receives from ECOT.

But Brenner's proposal would soften ECOT's impact on Lake Erie West and likely keep the sponsor from potentially dropping ECOT.

This is the kind of stuff that made Ohio the national laughingstock it has been for years on charter school oversight. Add to this provision the revelation late last week that Ohio will have to cough up $22 million of the nation's highest $71 million it received to promote charter schools in the state because there are only 5 of 65 sponsors that perform well enough to qualify, and you start seeing why we still have so far to go.

I agree that the sponsor evaluation system needs tweaked. There are 8 Ohio charter school sponsors with As in academics. None rate above ineffective on the overall rating. Why? Because the state took liberties with the law governing the rating system. Under Ohio Revised Code Section 3314.016(B)(6), "[t]he department annually shall rate all entities that sponsor community schools as either "exemplary," "effective," "ineffective," or "poor," based on the components prescribed by division (B) of this section, where each component is weighted equally . A separate rating shall be given by the department for each component of the evaluation system."

However, weighting each grade equally means if you get an A and two Fs, you get a B, or effective, rating. The Ohio Department of Education wrote a rule stating that if a sponsor received an F in any category, they couldn't be rated above ineffective, which weighs one are more than another in violation of the law. Not saying what ODE did wasn't admirable, but it was, likely, illegal.

I would like to see the academic portion counted more heavily than the bureaucratic provisions. Parents don't care if sponsors dot i's and cross t's; they care if they actually make sure their children are being educated.

But the last thing we need is stuff like Brenner's provision to once again carve out Ohio's worst-performing schools for special protections. That's what makes Ohio's charter school experience so ridiculed nationally.

Our state's kids and parents deserve better.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Politics Explains why Ohio Budget Director has Job Security Despite Disastrous Revenue Projections.

From Left to Right: Ohio Budget Director Tim Keen, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, Gov. John Kasich, and Senate President Larry Obhof announced Ohio Budget projections are off by $400 million a year during a stable economic period


I don't mean to pile on here, but where is the outrage over Gov. John Kasich's budget director being off by $400 million a year on his revenue projections when there isn't a recession going on?

I was in the legislature the last time revenue projections were this off. And that was during the Great Recession, when you could explain missing the mark because our economy was in free fall. But that didn't stop legislative Republicans from calling for then-Gov. Strickland (a Democrat) to fire his budget director Pari Sabety for her inability to provide "reliable projections due to inaccurate estimates."

Contrast that with the silence from legislative leadership (which is Republican) from making similar calls of Tim Keen (whose boss is a Republican). In fact, as the above picture shows, the House Speaker and Senate President stood with the budget director who couldn't project revenue accurately during a relatively stable economic time.


I'm not saying that Tim Keen needs to lose his job. But I'm just amazed that being as bad at projecting revenue as he was during a steady economic period hasn't been met with more concern by Ohio's legislative budget hawks than Sabety's inability to project revenue during an historically bad and unpredictable economic time.

Now the question becomes what to do with this budget loss? Do legislative leaders decide to go ahead with the $3.1 billion income tax cut? Do they hold off on some of that? Do they hit the rainy day fund?

The real question is whether Ohio's legislative leaders will do what's right or will they continue their obeisance to the Laffer Curve, which just screwed them. We'll see.

One thing I do know: Any hope of increased education funding seems to be all but gone. And that sucks for Ohio's kids.

Ohio Legislative Service Commission: "Income Based" Voucher Bill Would Qualify 74% of Ohio Families

State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, introduced Senate Bill 85 last month amid some momentum. However, that momentum must be tempered by what the Ohio Legislative Service Commission discovered during its fiscal analysis of the bill. Even though it's being touted as an "income based" voucher program, it actually would apply to any family of four making $98,000 or less. According to LSC, that would apply to 74 percent of Ohio families -- hardly the vision for vouchers that was articulated by Chief Justice William Rhenquist in the landmark Zelman case that established the constitutionality of Ohio's voucher system -- when it was a $6 million program in Cleveland.

Under Huffman's bill, vouchers would expand statewide at an additional overall cost of $1.2 billion, with a more than $5 billion cut to money for school districts. This is assuming the 1 million more students eligible for the program take advantage of it.

However, this has always been the issue and misleading argument with voucher programs. There simply aren't enough seats in Ohio's private schools to accommodate that many students. There are currently 60,000 open EdChoice vouchers, and barely 1/4 of them are utilized. And there aren't enough open seats for 60,000 students. All it would take to subsidize most, if not all the current 117,000 or so students in Ohio's private schools is for about one out of 10 eligible students under Huffman's bill to take the voucher. It would cost $607 million for these students to all receive public subsidies, using the same LSC figures on the current private school population

These voucher programs are designed not to "rescue" kids from "failed" schools; they are designed to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize the cost of private school for parents who have already made the choice and currently are paying for that choice on their own.

It's been a problem since the program's beginning. And it's what happened in Cincinnati when the special education voucher program started. Of the 199 students who applied for the special ed voucher, only 15 had ever been in Cincinnati Public Schools.

Don't fall for the argument that vouchers give kids a chance who otherwise don't have the chance to "escape" their schools. They overwhelmingly go to students whose parents have already made that choice for them and, in many cases, never really attended the school district whose state money is now subsidizing that decision.

If there were a requirement that said no student can receive a voucher unless they have attended the local public school district for at least one continuous school year, you would see how few parents actually decide to use these vouchers for the reasons espoused by their advocates.

Betsy DeVos visits Van Wert. Her Privatization Agenda's Already Been There. A Lot.

U.S. Secretary of Education and school privatization advocate Betsy DeVos will be visiting Van Wert today. Van Wert is a little burg in Northwest Ohio. And while I welcome the visit (along with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten), I think it's important for everyone to understand what the privatization agenda DeVos has spent her life promoting has done to kids, families and taxpayers in Van Wert. I published my thoughts at Innovation Ohio yesterday, but thought I'd re-print it here today.

How School Choice Has Hurt Van Wert
..."As DeVos is one of the nation’s top proponents of school choice options like charter schools and vouchers, it is important for the people of the City and County of Van Wert to understand just how much these options have hurt the overwhelming percentage of children who attend the local public schools in Van Wert County.

Since the 2012-2013 school year, $3,744,988 in state funding originally meant for the children attending Van Wert County’s local public schools has instead gone to privately run brick and mortar and online charter schools, which generally perform worse on state metrics than Van Wert schools do.



Because the amount the state spend on charter schools is so much greater than the state provides to Van Wert’s local public schools, local taxpayers in Van Wert (which include income taxpayers in some of the districts), have had to subsidize these larger state payments to charter schools to the tune of $1.4 million – money that should have supplemented the larger state aid amount but is now being used to subsidize poorer performing, privately run charter schools.



Overall, the vast majority of funding to charters from Van Wert County schools comes from Van Wert City Schools. More than 3 out of 4 charter dollars sent from Van Wert County schools comes from its city schools. However, it remains significant that nearly $500,000 has gone to charters from Lincolnview and nearly $400,000 from Crestview.

As if on cue, local property taxpayers in Van Wert County schools are paying $3 million more in property taxes in 2015 (the most recent available data from the Ohio Department of Taxation) than they did in 2013, which is increasing  those communities’ reliance on property taxes to pay for education – a result deemed unconstitutional four times by the Ohio Supreme Court."


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Always Do Your Runs BEFORE You Introduce School Funding Legislation

State Rep. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, has introduced his school funding bill, which would be a radical change from the way we fund schools today. He would essentially eliminate local property tax levies, create a statewide property tax, roll that into state funding, then give every kid a set amount of per pupil funding that could be used at any public, charter or private school in the state -- essentially getting rid of public schools as we've known them and turn public education into a massive voucher program.

While I actually like the idea of creating a statewide property tax to lessen the need for local levies, eliminating the ability of local communities to invest in their kids as Brenner calls for is misguided. And I would never suggest that we roll all the education money into one pot to be equally distributed to all school types. Why? Well, because that means ECOT -- yes, that ECOT -- would see a massive funding increase and most districts that perform far better than ECOT would get cut. A lot.

How is this so? Because ECOT would now be able to access that one area of school funding that so far has been off limits to all but a few Ohio charters -- local revenue.

In Brenner's bill, he sets the new per pupil funding level at $8,720 per pupil (plus categoricals, but I'll discuss that later). While that's a big boost from the state's current $6,000, don't forget that he's outlawing local property tax levies. So in order to do an approximation of economic impacts for kids, you have to add together their current state and local per pupil revenue, then subtract it from the $8,720 to find out the minimum amount that each school gets.

Surprise. The 270 largest percentage increases go to charter schools, with ECOT seeing at least a 55% per pupil increase. And this is before categorical funding (additional money sent for poverty, special ed, etc.) is included. So we're looking at perhaps as much as doubling funding to some charters, and nearly doubling the per pupil funding to ECOT, which can't graduate even 4 out of 10 kids.

In fact, 85% of charter schools would be in line for increases as large as 287%, with an average 39% increase for the 334 charters that would see increases just on the minimum funding level (we have just about 380 charters). I have provided you with just 79 the charters that will receive a 50% or greater increase based on Brenner's minimum funding level.

Meanwhile, there are 115 school districts (of 613) that would receive per pupil increases, but the average increase is a far more modest 6%, with a top of 22%.

So, the minimum per pupil funding level Brenner's plan would provide would give 85% of charters increases and 85% of districts cuts. While categoricals will adjust these numbers, overall you see the pattern -- massive benefits to kids in charters and massive detriments to kids in districts.

This is why you have to do trial runs on the figures before you introduce legislation. It's something Gov. Ted Strickland learned during the Evidence Based Model debate in 2009. It's something Gov. John Kasich learned in 2013. And it's something Brenner should have known before he introduced his bill.

Then, perhaps, he would understand why he has no co-sponsors on his bill.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Private School Vouchers Don't Mean More Kids for Private Schools

State Sen Matt Huffman, R-Lima, introduced legislation recently to create statewide vouchers for any family who meets at least 400% of poverty (for a family of four, that's about $100,000, or roughly 81% of Ohio families).

I have always had serious constitutional concerns about Huffman's plan, as I've enumerated on several occasions.

In a nutshell, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Cleveland's voucher program did not violate the Establishment Clause in 2002 because it was small in scope and scale (about $7 million) and was designed to "rescue" kids from "failing schools". However, now the program reaches nearly every school district in the state, including districts that cannot be argued to be "failing" kids. And it's approaching a $250 million program that would be available to more than 80% of Ohio's school children under Huffman's bill.

Aside from this concern, however, is the fascinating fact that since Ohio started funding private, mostly religious school vouchers in 1995-1996, enrollment in private schools has plummeted by nearly 30% to a 40-year low.

In fact, as a percentage of public school enrollment (including charters), private school enrollment is now as small as it's ever been -- less than 10% from a high of more than 13% in the mid-1990s.

What does this mean for Huffman's bill? I don't know. But what the data show pretty convincingly is the more vouchers parents have at their disposal, the fewer students become enrolled in private, mostly religious schools.

Which begs the question: Have vouchers helped maintain private, mostly religious schools' survival, or have they actually hurt private school enrollment?

Only time will tell. But it's fairly clear that if Sen. Huffman is trying to save Ohio's private, mostly religious schools, increased numbers of vouchers do not appear to do the trick.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Kasich Budget cuts 276 Ohio Districts' Transportation Funding

When Gov. John Kasich's budget came out last month, one of the first things we noticed was that transportation was being cut substantially. What we didn't know was how. Well, now the bill's language and the Ohio Legislative Service Commission's Bill Analysis are out and we now know how. Essentially, the Kasich budget calls for districts that needed more transportation funding than the state's formula allowed will now have to do with less -- in some cases much less -- under the budget's formulation.

Under current law, Ohio's school districts receive something called a "State Share Index" that is multiplied to a district's aid package to accommodate the district's ability to raise money given its citizens' income. It's more complicated than that, but that's the nutshell. Under current law, everything a district gets from the state is multiplied by this factor as an attempt to approximate the educational and local property tax challenges in each community.

Except for transportation. Under current law, the state says a district can get the greater of a 50% multiplier or their State Share Index (which can be as high as 90%). Next year, Kasich proposes to drop that 50% to 37.5%, further dropping it to 25% by the 2018-2019 school year.

That means districts whose State Share Indices were under 50% but greater than 37.5% will see substantial transportation funding cuts next year. That's about 200 districts and includes bigger cities like Canton and Cincinnati as well as Appalachian districts like Northern Local in Perry County -- the district that sued the state and won over its unconstitutional school funding system.

The following year, another 76 districts will be cut as the funding guarantee drops to 25%.

Transportation is an incredible challenge for districts. Losing state support for it can be devastating as children are forced to walk for miles to school during Ohio winters, or parents are forced to re-arrange work schedules to drive them.

Choosing to cut transportation funding to districts whose students desperately need it while the state chooses to cut $3.1 billion in income taxes, mostly for wealthy people, is a sad outcome for this proud and great state.

Our kids and communities deserve better.

Here is the list of districts that are set to see transportation cuts, arranged by county and district name. Sorry it's hard to read. But there are a bunch.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

There's Progress in Them Thar Charter Runs

Gov. John Kasich has been taking heat from me and others over his treatment of Ohio School Districts under his as introduced budget. What with 85 percent of Ohio's rural districts being cut, and now that the Ohio Legislative Service Commission has determined that Kasich's further reduction in reimbursement payments for lost Tangible Personal Property Taxes will mean that 388 of Ohio's 609 school districts will get less money in the 2018-2019 school year than they will this year, that criticism is warranted.

The Republican chair of the House finance committee called the plan "asinine."

So I'm not alone here.

Anyway, despite all this and Kasich's open admission that property taxes should fund more public education, in contravention to four Ohio Supreme Court rulings, there is a slight, silver lining in his funding plan from an unlikely place: How it treats charter schools.

Yes, only 9 out of 370 charters will get less money in the 2018-2019 school year versus this year -- a paltry 2 percent cut rate compared with the nearly 65 percent of school districts that will see less money. But there are things to like about the direction of the charter funding.

Again, this is all relative to our atrocious history with charters. So take that caveat with you on this journey.

First of all, Kasich froze the base per pupil funding amount from this school year at $6,000 for each of the next two school years. So the automatic increase charters have traditionally received over the years from the steady increase of the per pupil funding amount won't happen this budget. And while I have reservations about this as a policy long term, the fact is that for the first time since the 2010-2011 biennium, charters won't get automatic increases.

The increases charters do receive are two-fold: money for facilities and money for performance. The facilities money is problematic because it comes out of state lottery money originally voted by Ohioans to go exclusively to school districts in order to relieve property tax burden. But it's not a ton of money.

Where I'm really encouraged is the money earmarked for performance. That slight increase, coupled with flat funding the elements that have historically bumped charter schools' funding, means that the largest increases for charters in this budget (generally) go to the highest performing charters in the state. So, for example, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, the Ohio Virtual Academy, OHDELA, and the other horrifically performing eSchools get zero additional dollars. Meanwhile, the high performing Cleveland charters and the Dayton Early College Academies get the largest increases.

That is a far cry from previous budgets this Governor has produced where the worst performing charters got the largest dollar and percentage increases.

The problem of charter funding remains. Too often, local property taxpayers have to subsidize the vast majority of low performing charters that currently operate here. And Ohio's House Bill 2 reform is maddeningly slow paced at producing the changes we need to see.

In addition, the largest dollar increase for performance (just under $50,000) wouldn't even cover the cost of an additional teacher.

But considering where we've been as a state on charters (namely, a national laughingstock), this is most definitely progress. I look forward to having a robust discussion about reforming the mechanism for this state's charter school funding soon. But for the first time in our state's history, it appears we have a budget before us that provides more funding to the best performing charters in the state and does not reward the worst performers.

I suppose you can call this the slow slog of progress.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ding-Dong! DeRolph is Dead.

For 20 years, the Ohio Supreme Court has held that Ohio's dependence upon property taxes to pay for schools makes our system unconstitutional in a case called DeRolph v. State of Ohio. However, earlier today, Gov. John Kasich told school districts that are cut under his budget that going for MORE property tax levies is the answer to their funding woes. Here's what he told the assembled reporters:
“Why don’t they put a levy on? Because if they put a levy on, guess how much of the money goes into the schools? 100%. So that’s the most efficient way.”
In fact, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled four times that property taxes are the least efficient way to pay for schools. But apparently, Kasich knows better.

Never mind that he's willing to cut taxes by $3.1 billion to benefit primarily the most wealthy among us. You're right, Governor. When the Ohio Constitution reads that it's the state's responsibility to develop a "thorough and efficient" system of schools, they really meant only if certain school districts would be willing to pay for them with property taxes.

Now I understand why he's cutting money to 83 percent of rural districts and why he's taking money from districts least able to raise local property taxes and give it to districts that are best able to do so.




He just doesn't care.

Tax cuts for the rich are more important than our state's 1.8 million kids.

My God, I wish it weren't so.

For Apparently the First Time Ever, John Kasich Freezes Ohio School Funding Formula

The current Ohio budget is fascinating because it contains apparently the first instance of a Governor's budget freezing in place the state's per pupil funding "formula" (which isn't really a formula, as I've discussed before) so that the basic aid each student receives in each district will be $6,000 for this coming school year and the one after and all future years.

As far as I can tell going back through as many budgets as are available on the Office of Budget and Management's website (through the 06-07 budget), Ohio has never frozen the basic state aid amount. And while the Evidence Based Model wasn't a classic per pupil funding formula, you could manipulate it to approximate per pupil funding, and it did represent an increase -- during the Great Recession, I might add.

This unprecedented freeze in the state's base aid amount is dangerous. That's because the Governor is putting in the $6,000 without any mention of school years, meaning he's trying to freeze that base aid figure permanently into law.

Why is this a problem? Several reasons.

  1. The freezing of the base aid amount means inflationary increases for any costs schools must bear now fall (once again) to local property taxpayers
  2. The $6,000 figure isn't even keeping pace with a simple inflationary increase from the 2007 formula (the so-called "Building Blocks") upon which the amount was based. So it's freezing into law an amount that's already too low (and there's an argument to be made that the 2007 formula was inadequate).
  3. Re-calculating the 2007 formula using today's actual costs indicates that the $5,732 calculated in 2007 would probably be closer to $7,600

I'm not saying that you automatically need to increase base aid funding by $100 a year or something. That's totally arbitrary, though it's what the state has done now for a couple budget cycles. What I'm saying is let's actually figure out how much kids need in order to have the outstanding educational opportunities they deserve and we all want for them.

Then let's fund it.

But freezing the base aid figure in perpetuity I fear also freezes any hope that we will one day achieve that lofty goal our nation's founder envisioned.

I'm hopeful, though. The very reasonable and thoughtful Chairman of the House Finance Committee, Ryan Smith, R-Gallipolis, called the Governor's manipulation of winners and losers in his introduced funding plan "asinine".

So there's that...

Monday, February 6, 2017

20 Years Later, Ohio Still Unconstitutionally Funds Schools

In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled for the first of four times that the way Ohio funded its schools violated the state's constitutional responsibility to provide a "thorough and efficient" education to all kids because, for the most part, we relied too much on local property taxes to pay for schools. 

Twenty years later, Ohio's looking again at a continuation of a steady de-commitment to the only specifically mandated thing Ohio's legislature is supposed to do -- fund public schools.

And this year's budget will make the problem worse if it isn't changed by the legislature. Why is that? Because the districts that will receive less state funding under Gov. John Kasich's budget are the districts least able to cope with those cuts -- small, rural districts, 83 percent of which will be cut. That's because they raise local revenue at a 116 percent lower rate than the districts that received flat or increased funding.


As you can see, it is difficult to understand how this budget won't make the unconstitutional problem worse for kids in rural districts. 

Piggybacking on that, Ohioans are now paying more than ever in local property taxes for their schools -- a fact that more than anything proves that Ohio's school funding system remains unconstitutional.



This is what happens when the state steps away from the table at historic levels, as it did in 2011. Then refuses to develop a school funding formula that accurately costs out educational needs. Then continues to arbitrarily spend money in a haphazard way to create winners and losers out of a system that should only produce winners.

As Ohio legislators begin questioning administration officials about the latest budget, there is really only one question that needs answered: How does increasing the need for local property tax levies meet the state's constitutional mandate to reduce them?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Ohio Budget Hammers Poor, Rural School Districts

I don't know what it is about Ohio's rural school districts, but it really looks like Gov. John Kasich has it out for them. In the latest batch of funding estimates for school districts, a whopping 83% of Ohio's rural school districts will receive less money in the 2018-2019 school year than they have received this school year. And nearly 80% of the poorest of those districts get cut.

Why is this a problem? Because poor, rural school districts simply can't raise local revenue at the rates of Ohio's wealthiest or biggest school districts. So even a small dollar cut in Noble Local is a monster cut to them because they can't raise enough local revenue to cover their 5.6% cut in state funding they're set to receive under Kasich's budget.






















As you can see, Ohio's rural districts are paying for increases in Ohio's more urban and suburban locales. This is a function of Kasich's decision to wind down the "guarantee" -- a calculation done to offset funding losses due to declining enrollment.

Here's the problem: The loss in enrollment does not necessarily mean there's less service need. For example, if I have a district that has 100 students that cost $10,000 per pupil to educate and I lose 10% of those students, I'm still going to need the same number of teachers, custodians, buses, etc. But under Kasich, I will have $50,000 fewer state dollars with which to educate those students. That's the equivalent of a teacher.

I will be doing further analysis of these data in the coming days and weeks. But suffice it to say, Gov. John Kasich is taking state money from our poorest, rural school districts and using it to give small to moderate increases in our urban areas.

Oh, and all these cuts don't include the additional 1/3 loss in tangible personal property tax reimbursements Kasich's calling for in this budget. So chances are, far more than the 337 districts who get less money in two years will end up losing out. So stay tuned...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

No. Gov. John Kasich did NOT provide a $200 million increase to schools

Amid much fanfare, Gov. John Kasich announced this week that his just-introduced budget provides a $200 million increase to Ohio's schools. However, as with most plans, the devil is in the details here. That's because Kasich rarely gives additional money to schools. He just moves money from one part of the budget to another.

So, for example, while he claims unprecedented levels of funding for schools, he is only talking about one line item in the budget -- the state foundation line. However, he has all but eliminated a line item that prior to his administration provided more than $1 billion a year to schools, which means this unprecedented increase in the one budget line item hasn't kept pace with inflation because of his unprecedented CUT in the other portion of the budget.


This same principle holds true for Kasich's $200 million increase alternative fact. Here are 8 line items in his budget that amount to a $227 million CUT to schools.



So his $200 million increase is, in fact, a cut.

And now we're being told that the state is going to phase out guarantees, which (depending on how it's calculated) means more than 1/2 of all Ohio school districts will be cut in direct aid, and disproportionately poor districts with shrinking populations.

So we have that analysis to look forward to later this week when the district runs are released.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Betsy DeVos Surprisingly Struggles with Basic Education Policy Concepts

I don't think Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) had any idea yesterday that his question would lead to the most disqualifying statement made by President-Elect Donald Trump's Secretary of Education nominee, billionaire Betsy DeVos. Here's the exchange, via CNN:


DeVos can't answer whether she prefers proficiency or student growth as the standard for student excellence. In fact, it appears she doesn't know there's been a controversy over the issue -- something a simple Google search reveals. Look, there's pressure involved in these hearings. I get it. So did DeVos simply run out of gas, forget, choke? I don't know. But the fact that she can't have a coherent discussion about student growth and proficiency scores and claims to want to run our nation's schools is frightening.

Why?

Because all efforts we make to turn around struggling schools, or reward high performing schools, or pay teachers, or rate schools and states , or establish charter schools or vouchers depends entirely on proficiency and student growth scores. In some cases, it's growth that takes the day. In others, it's proficiency. But to not know about these concepts is truly frightening. Kind of like hiring a basketball coach who doesn't understand wins and losses determine who reaches the playoffs. Yes. It's that problematic.

Nearly as disqualifying: her lack of understanding that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) can't be overseen by states (which was her pat answer to any tough policy issue: Let the states and localities decide how to handle it). IDEA is a federal program that supports schools' IEP implementation and helps them hire Special Education Intervention Specialists, among other things.

And because it's a federal program, it ensures that every school in the country is required to meet these minimum standards. DeVos said during her hearing that each state and district should be able to implement IDEA how they see fit. Either she is ignorant of the program or she believes fundamentally that the U.S. Department of Education should exercise zero oversight of the $70 billion in taxpayer dollars it oversees.

Other issues from yesterday:

  • She wouldn't tell Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who represented Sandy Hook in the House, whether guns around schools were a good idea (except to defend against grizzly bears
  • She refused to say whether she would defend current regulations against sexual assaults on college campuses, though she did say that what Donald Trump bragged about doing with women was sexual assault.
  • She wouldn't commit to really any policies other than the same EduSpeak pablum everyone talks about -- ensuring kids and parents have opportunities. Who's possibly against that.
  • She outright refused to say that all schools that receive federal dollars should be put on the same playing field, which means charter and private schools will be judged differently than local public schools. She approvingly confirmed that charters currently are held to a different standard.
One more thing that concerned me. Here in Ohio, we have had a 20-year struggle with figuring out charter schools. The major turning point in our history with making these schools the high-quality options our children deserve came a few years ago when charter advocates and critics coalesced around the idea of quality governing school choices, not just the choice, quality be damned -- the If-Parents-Choose-It's-Inherently-A-Better-Option Fallacy. 

As Dr. Macke Raymond of the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University put it: Education "is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state."

I thought it was telling that every time DeVos was asked about the quality issue -- whether a bunch of low performing choices are choices in a real sense -- she always returned to the choice for choice's sake refrain.

Maybe I'm sensitive to this because of our Herculean struggle with this issue here in Ohio, but not once did I hear her bring up quality first. Choice was first. Then quality. And that's concerning to me. Because for 20 years, Ohio operated like only the choice matters, and we became a national joke on charter school quality.

All the more concerning is that even without DeVos in charge, the feds have not had a good history here of investing in the "high-quality" charters their grant programs are meant to encourage. Last year, we found that nearly 4 in 10 charters that received federal money meant to grow high-quality Ohio charters went to schools that closed shortly after receiving the grant or never opened at all.

Imagine if quality wasn't even considered because the new Education Secretary didn't know how to measure it? Well, we may find out soon enough.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Did Anyone Vote For This? Charters Get More Per Pupil Casino Money than Districts

I've written about this before -- the idea of whether the Ohio Constitution permits charter and joint vocational schools to receive any casino money, especially given the casino provision's specific mention of public school "districts". My concerns remain.

(By the way, whenever anyone criticizes me or anyone else for comparing charter schools with school districts, I give you the interpretation that charters are to be considered school districts for the purposes of casino revenue distribution.)

However, I wonder if more people will take the argument seriously now that charters get more per pupil funding from casinos than local public school districts. Last year was the first time that happened.

According to Ohio Department of Taxation data, charter school kids received $51.33, on average, from casino revenue. Local school district children received $50.89.



Now, the difference isn't that great. However, it is there.

I know for a fact that not a single person who voted for the casino issue voted to send more per pupil money to the notorious Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) than all but 2 Ohio school districts (Piqua and Bradford). Or that more than 1 in 10 charters now receive more per pupil funding from casino revenue than ANY Ohio school district. Or that only 89 percent of state casino money meant for "public school districts" under the Ohio Constitution actually go to public school districts.

As lawmakers return to handle what Gov. John Kasich has called a looming recession here, I would think one way they could address at least a little bit of the school funding issue is to re-examine whether charter schools should be receiving more per pupil funding from Ohio casinos than the school districts whose good reputations helped get the measure passed.

And this is one more area of concern with Betsy DeVos being nominated as the U.S. Secretary of Education. Her steadfast belief that charters and vouchers are better options than local public schools would seem to signal that she's perfectly fine with charters getting more per pupil money from Ohio casinos than local districts. Not sure many middle class Ohioans who voted for her boss would agree.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ohio: The Mediocre Heart of it All

It seems like I write this every year when the Education Week Quality Counts report comes out. There's Ohio, right in the middle of the national rankings. Again. Yawn.

This year, we rated 22nd overall. Last year, 23rd.



It wasn't always this way. In 2010, we ranked 5th best education system in the country.

Then in 2011, we had an historic, $1.8 billion funding cut to education -- a cut that hasn't been replaced in many parts of the state, even now, despite the state spending about $10 billion more overall than it spent in 2010.

But I digress.

Once again, though, the rankings demonstrate just how close Ohio came to being a national education leader rather than a laggard. In 2010, we had the Evidence Based Model of school funding -- a system that for the first time promised to reduce the state's reliance on property taxes -- the key to the state's constitutional mandate. In fact, 2010 has been the only time on record that more state than local money paid for public education. The model and other education reforms won the state the prestigious Frank Newman Award from the bipartisan Education Commission of the States, which is awarded every year to the nation's most "bold, courageous" education policy reforms of the year.

However, Gov. Kasich eliminated the EBM as one of his first acts. Since then, Ohio's rankings have plummeted.

There was one state that kept its version of the EBM. Wyoming. In 2010, that state ranked 34th nationally. Today? It's 7th. And it's the only state in the country to receive an A (A-) in school finance.

Think elections don't matter?