Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ohio's School Choice Funding Scheme Costs Public School Kids

Now that Ohio's sending more than $1 billion this year to privately run Charter Schools and Private Schools through Vouchers, it is important to examine the impact of those decisions made in Columbus have on the 92% of Ohio's kids that do not attend Charters or Vouchers.

The impact is profound. Like asteroid or comet profound.

Looking at the January #1 payment (school districts get paid twice a month by the state), Ohio's new funding formula had allotted $6,666,455,622 to educate 1,713,587 children. However, when the $887,880,706 sent to Charter Schools is subtracted, along with the $143,494,178 in the state's Voucher programs, it leaves $5,635,080,738 to educate Ohio's children who remain in traditional public schools. Subtracting the 123,497 children in Charter Schools and 19,577 taking vouchers from the 1,713,587 listed earlier leaves 1,570,513 children to share in the $5,635,080,738.

Prior to the Charter and Voucher deductions, Ohio provided $3,890, on average, to the state's 1,713,587 children. However, after Charters and Vouchers remove their money and students from the formula, Ohio's kids are left with $3,588, on average. That is a difference of $302 per pupil, or 7.8%.

What does that mean? It means that because of the decisions made in Columbus, the 1,570,513 Ohio schoolchildren in traditional public schools get 7.8% less state money, on average, than the state formula says they need. Four years ago, that number was 5.9%. So Ohio's kids have lost, on average, 2% (a 33% increase) of their state revenue the last four years just because the state has decided to put more money into mostly underperforming Charter Schools and Voucher schools that also do not, on the whole, outperform the public schools.

And don't forget that's on top of the overall $515 million cut traditional districts have seen through the state formula and reimbursements over the last four years, leading to a record number (and cost) of local school tax levies to seek new revenue cover these state funding losses.

My question is this: at what point do Ohio's parents say, "Enough!"?

I get and am sympathetic to the argument that kids need opportunities to escape struggling schools. And I have little problem with the few really excellent school choice options that are out there that genuinely do give kids opportunities to achieve their potential.

But when the vast majority of those opportunities aren't any better (and are usually much worse) than the struggling school, and paying for these mostly worse options means the kids who remain in the struggling public school have far fewer resources with which to achieve, or the school to improve?

Well, I'm sorry. I just don't get that.

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).

Monday, January 13, 2014

Appalachia: Ohio's Third-Largest Charter School Funder

When most people think of Charter Schools, they think of urban districts. After all, that was how Charters were originally sold -- as a solution to a mostly urban problem of "failing" schools.

However, an interesting thing has happened in Ohio. According to the last payment report in December (which shows a record $888 million being spent on charters this school year), The state's top two districts, in terms of losing money to Charter Schools, are (not surprisingly) Cleveland with $140.4 million and Columbus with $114.7 million. However, the state's 34 Appalachian counties lose $106.6 million. Only Cleveland and Columbus lose more.

Of course, Appalachia is not one school district. But the fact that more money goes to Charters from Appalachian districts than from Cincinnati and Dayton combined is telling.

This is an outgrowth of the rise in e-Schools here in Ohio. E-Schools enroll kids from all over the state, including very high performing rural, suburban and urban districts. Yet their performance is really embarrassing.

Ohio's leaders need to focus more on quality choices, and less on choice for choice's sake. Let's hope that seeing that more money is being spent on Charters in Appalachia than anywhere but Cleveland and Columbus will make them realize that this isn't just an urban issue anymore.

It's an Ohio issue.

And they need to fix it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Another Brick in the Wall

The Columbus Dispatch wrote a compelling story today about how last school year in Columbus, 17 Charter Schools shuttered before the year was up. And there are serious questions about why the schools ever opened in the first place.

The key paragraph is here:
The state spent more than $1.6 million in taxpayer money to keep the nine schools open only from August through October or November.
The district likely will never see that money again. Again, Charters in Ohio are funded primarily by the state taking money meant for a school district to educate a child and giving it instead to privately run charters. However, once the money (which is almost always more than what the state would have paid the district to educate the child) follows the child to the Charter, if it shuts down, the money rarely returns to the district with the child.

This situation in Columbus was the result of a continuation of policies that are too lax on Charter School oversight in this state, especially of those who sponsor these schools, as the Dispatch story delineates clearly. Ohio needs to focus more on quality school options, not whether there are options. Charter Schools have too important a role to play in the education of our children. The state simply can't be wasting money on poor options.

Nearly $888 million is being spent on Charters this school year -- a 7.7% increase over last school year's record amount. Between Charters and Vouchers, Ohio now spends more than $1 billion a year on privately run schools. And the results are just not demonstrating success.

Perhaps with more stories like the one in today's Dispatch will motivate Ohio's leaders to address this serious problem that leaves too many kids, families and schools in the lurch.


Dear Readers,

You may have noticed that 10th Period has been rather light on content lately. That wasn't because of the holidays or anything. It was because my wife, Melissa, had been diagnosed in late November with a brain tumor. It was a benign olfactory groove meningioma the size of a lemon.

She went in for surgery to remove the tumor Dec. 17. Dr. Joung Lee at the Cleveland Clinic successfully removed the whole tumor and was able to spare Melissa's optic nerve, though she has lost her sense of smell. Because of his skill and Melissa's insistence on being as aggressive as possible with this tumor, it looks as if she has a relatively small likelihood of the tumor coming back. And since it was benign, it is extremely unlikely to return in a more malignant form.

During this ordeal, I have come to know a new level of gratitude. My hometown of Green has rallied around Melissa. Friends have shared their homes with our kids and their meals with our family. Colleagues have stood vigil over Melissa's hospital bed and supported our every move.

I have learned that a crisis teaches us we are not really alone. We are a real community. This is something I wish more people could understand without having to go through something like this. I am so grateful to everyone who has sent us cards, well wishes, prayers and good vibes during this incredibly trying time.

Now that the most touchy part of her recovery is over, I will be returning to producing the content you all have come to expect from 10th Period.

Thank you to everyone. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.