Monday, December 2, 2019

Pro-Voucher legislator blames districts for voucher explosion. I call BS.

I should preface this by saying I served with state Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, when I was in the House -- we entered the House the same year in 2007. I found him a sober, decent man. But he was obsessed with one thing -- making sure as many families sending their kids to private, mostly religious schools got as big a public subsidy as possible through the voucher system.

And wow has he been successful, as I noted a week ago and the Plan Dealer reported today. As the PD reported, these boosts to vouchers will end up coming back and costing us taxpayers even more than the voucher:
"Districts usually receive some state aid for students that use vouchers, even if it is less than what the district has to pay. But when students have never been in the district and never counted toward state aid calculations, (Cleveland Heights-University Heights Treasurer Scott) Gainer said, there’s no state aid for them to help offset voucher costs. 
Local property taxes, Gainer said, are essentially paying for the full $6,000 for most of the new high school vouchers. That has several districts where the same issue is occurring concerned that voters won’t pass school taxes they believe just pay for kids to go to private schools."
What was Huffman's response? Blame the districts. I kid you not. Blame the districts.
"State Sen. Matt Huffman, one of the strongest supporters of vouchers in Ohio, said some of the rules are subtle and have changed a few times. But districts should have known, he said, and should be blaming themselves for not improving their schools. 
He said school officials should just admit to the public: “We knew this was coming for six years. We just didn’t do anything about it.”
This is where I call BS.

How can I do that? Simple: Over the last decade, the state report card grades upon which these new voucher building designations are being based have been deliberately and artificially deflated for the state's school districts. And I'm increasingly convinced it was for this sole purpose: to ensure more districts and buildings are deemed "failing" by the state so more public money can be poured into private, mostly religious schools.

Don't believe me?

Look at school districts' overall grade performance since the 2012-2013 school year -- the first for the A-F state report card system.

Notice anything? Like a massive jump in D and F grades between 2013-2014 and 2014-2015?

Let me ask you a question: Does anyone -- and I mean ANYONE -- actually believe that between the 2013-2014 school year and the 2014-2015 school year school districts became more than twice as likely to "fail" kids?

Of course not.

This is a classic case of grade manipulation by state lawmakers. You'll also notice a steady decline in the rate of Fs since the high point of 2015-2016. Why were these grades so much worse? Because the state kept changing standardized tests. So teachers and students had no idea what the testing expectations were. Since they've remained the same, you can see a steady and precipitous decline in the rate of F grades, though the percentages of D and F grades remain far higher than the 2012-2013 school year.

To add insult to injury, a study examing the test performance of students who take vouchers found they did worse on state tests after taking the voiucher than before ... according to the pro-voucher Fordham Institute. But that doesn't matter to Huffman, whose hero is apparently the Titanic captain who kept plowing ahead, damn the iceberg.

Anyway, here's where Huffman struck gold for those who are taking a public subsidy to send their kids to private, mostly religious schools -- only 2 out of the three years' grades count to have your building designated "failing" from 2013-2014, 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. And once the building is eligible for vouchers, every student who gets a voucher gets to keep it forever, even if the public building becomes the highest-performing in the state.

So when the two buildings in Upper Arlington, or the one in Solon -- two of the highest-performing districts in the state -- invariably stop being eligible for vouchers as they are now, the students who took their vouchers this year can keep getting them until they graduate high school 6-8 years from now -- removing as much as $60,000 in state money from these districts during their time in school.

These districts would have received only about $6,000 total for that student from the state, forcing local taxpayers to subsidize Huffman's Folly to the tune of $54,000 in local property taxes for each student.

So Huffman can keep claiming it's all districts' fault that these vouchers are wreaking havoc on district finances.

But it's all been a plan from the beginning:

1) Deliberately deflate district report card grades

2) Get as many buildings as possible eligible for vouchers

3) Market them like crazy to families in these districts so the rest of us taxpayers can subsidize their choices with our local tax dollars and/or fewer opportunities for our kids who remain in local school districts.

That's not a district performance problem.

It's Huffman's plan.

And has been all along.

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