Friday, June 8, 2018

The ECOT Myth that Won't Die: Money Following the Child

In the devastating aftermath of the criminal ECOT scandal, many charter proponents are saying it's not quite as simple as saying that $591 million left school districts for ECOT. That's because (as the myth goes), the district didn't have to educate those kids, so wasn't that a savings?

In a word, "No it is not." I guess that's four words. But whatever.

See, here's the thing. Generally, if kids leave a district for ECOT, the district still has the same fixed costs. They run the same number of buses to the same areas. They operate the same number of buildings. They still have the same number of teachers. They still need the same number of lunch ladies and secretaries. The costs for the district simply do not disappear because ECOT took a kid from the district.

However, they will, on average, have $7,288 fewer in state money to educate the kids who remain.

Where this may get complicated is in districts that lose a lot of students to ECOT. But even in these districts (like Columbus, for example), those students are spread across 12 grades. So Columbus may lose, perhaps, 10-12 teachers across the district to accommodate the 1,500 lost students (because those kids aren't all in one class or something). However, the other fixed costs remain the same. Same lunch ladies, buses, etc. So ECOT takes about $10 million a year from Columbus. Columbus does not realize a $10 million savings from that deduction. Maybe $1 million of that is reduced teaching staff. But the remaining costs are exactly the same. Period.

As Columbus School Board Member Dominic Paretti put it: if ECOT hadn't taken all that money from Columbus, the district would not have needed to go for its last two new money levies.

In the overwhelming majority of districts that lost money to ECOT, there were zero staffing impacts. So you have the same number of teachers, lunch ladies, buses, etc. with far less state money to do it.

The bottom line is this: Even if the "savings" were actually there, which they're NOT, but let's assume they are, it's not beneficial for districts. Because ECOT got about $3,000 more per pupil from the state (on average) than the district would have received for the same student, local districts have to use substantially more local revenue to cover those fixed costs that remain, even if the ECOT student doesn't. That means the districts become more reliant on local property taxes to pay for schools. This is unconstitutional. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that way four times.

Claiming that districts somehow benefit financially from having to go for more frequent and sizable property tax levies is simply not true. So don't let anyone claim it is.

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