Tuesday, December 12, 2017

State Rep. Misleads on School Funding. Again.

It's not every day that my state Rep. Anthony DeVitis, R-Green, sends me a letter. Bu I received two at my home yesterday -- both addressed rather personally to "Edcuator". So, curiosity caused me to open them. It was a letter explaining what great things he and his colleagues are doing for education in the state's biennial budget.

The budget passed in June, so I'm not sure why I'm getting this a week before Christmas, but whatever.

Anyway, there were four bullet points he mentioned. The first was the removal of a provision that would have forced teachers to shadow a business leader. The second was the elimination of a provision that would have put business leaders on school boards as non-voting members.

Let's pause there.

These two provisions were never in state law. These provisions were proposed by Gov. John Kasich -- the same party as Rep. DeVitis. So he's claiming a victory for stopping a provision proposed by the governor of his own party.


The final two are really misleading, though. He claims that the per-pupil funding for students was increased. Which is true. By $100. Now students get $6,000 per student. That's about $600 less than a simple inflationary increase would have provided over the last 10 years.

And one more thing: anytime an Ohio politician tells you the per pupil funding level increased, understand that means the only schools to which this means a definite increase in revenue is charter schools. That's because the small per pupil increase DeVitis touts will likely be offset by cuts to transportation or other areas. But charters never see cuts in those areas because they don't have to provide transportation. So what he's really trumpeting is an increase to funding for charter schools -- most of which do a worse job educating kids than the districts the kids leave -- and cost the state about twice as much per pupil to educate.

Yes, charters don't get local revenue, but they do get about twice as much per pupil funding from the state.

The fourth and final bullet point is that state foundation funding increased by $154 million in this school year and $120 million in the second year. What he and his colleagues never mention is that while the foundation line has increased, other lines that contributed significant revenue for kids in the past have been eliminated, or all but eliminated, by this legislature. For example, in 2009, the state provided about $1 billion in reimbursements for local tangible personal property tax payments the state eliminated in 2005. Now these schools get barely $100 million.

Also, in 2009, there was about $450 million coming annually to Ohio from State Fiscal Stabilization Funds that were intended to be replaced by state funding once the economy snapped back from the Great Recession. But DeVitis and his colleagues declined to replace that funding, effectively eliminating $450 million a year in education funding.

So overall funding since the Great Recession budget of 2009 is almost $900 million less over the course of this budget than districts received at the height of the Recession.

He continues to tout the benefits of HB 170 -- a bill he says (among other things) would "authorize" districts to set up a computer science and technology fund which he said could consist of district revenue, or privately raised money.

Notice the one pot of money he didn't mention? That's right. Not a single state dollar would be designated for these local tech funds. All the bill would do is let districts set aside some money and raise local money for a tech fund. But it's not important enough for the state to actually contribute even one penny.

Add this to the fact that the state is seriously considering spending at least $48 million on an unprecedented expansion of vouchers paid to private, mostly religious schools, and you start wondering if DeVitis and his colleagues are really concerned about the 1.6 million Ohio students in local public schools. If he's willing to drop $48 million or more on vouchers that we know hurt kids' education attainment, why won't he invest a single penny in establishing local tech funds?

I doubt that DeVitis did this independently. He's not on any education committees. I would assume all Republican members are sending around similar letters, trying desperately to explain away their terrible negligence of our state's kids.

But they're going to have to do better than that.

Ohio Charters More Segregated than School District Buildings. Is this the Real Charter School Civil Rights Issue?

A recent story in the Columbus Dispatch revealed that Ohio's charter schools mirror charter schools nationally in that they have been a major contributor to the re-segregation of the nation's public schools.

However, it appears that the Dispatch story was a localized version of a national Associated Press story that used federal data to reach their conclusions. Using that data, the Dispatch found that by 2015, 25 Ohio charters had 5,000 minority students without a single white student.

So, using a similar segregation standard, I decided to take a look at state-level data. And the results are striking.

Last year, in Ohio's brick and mortar charter schools (I excluded eSchools, as the AP did), 27,451 of 48,208 black students attended charter schools with fewer than 15 percent white student populations. That means about 6 in 10 black charter students attend schools with nearly every student being black.

Meanwhile, less than 35 percent of black students in Ohio's urban school buildings attend schools with fewer than 15 percent white student populations.

And outside of the big 8 urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown), the desegregation is even more remarkable. Only 12.3 percent of Ohio's black students attend schools with less than 10 percent white students. Remember that last school year, about 1/2 of all Ohio charter school students do not come the state's Big 8 urban districts.

Meanwhile, Only 28 of 2484 district buildings fit this segregated definition, which is a stunning 1.1 percent of Ohio's non-Big 8 public school buildings. And only 23.3 percent of Ohio's Big 8 buildings fit this segregated definition.

Ohio's charter schools?

28.6 percent.

Finally, you can look at a simple line graph to see how the distribution of racial composition is much more uniform in Ohio's urban buildings than in charters. What does this mean? It means Ohio charters tend to be more frequently segregated and to a greater degree than their urban school building counterparts.

Look, it's bad enough that Ohio charter schools overall have a performance problem and a funding problem. Now it appears they have a serious racial segregation problem -- an issue that was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. It seems to me that allowing more students greater access to a more segregated school system would run afoul of that historic ruling.

Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course. But overall, the trend is clear.

Can we please address these serious and significant problems quickly and firmly, Ohio General Assembly and Gov. Kasich?

Anyone care to hold their breath while we and our kids wait?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Kids in 100 Ohio School Districts Lose Overall Funding to Charter Schools

One of the arguments pro-charter folks typically trot out to oppose the "charter schools cost students in local public schools money" argument is that while state funding drops, per pupil funding goes up because no local funding follows the charter school student to the charter school.

The way charters are funded Ohio is if a child decides to leave Columbus City Schools, the state removes at least $6,000 in state aid originally meant for Columbus to educate the student and sends it to the privately run charter school. The problem is that the state would have only given Columbus about half that amount if the students had stayed in Columbus. So it doesn't take long for that state funding loss to add up.

Columbus then has to fill in the state funding gap with money raised from local taxpayers. And while that will mean an overall per pupil increase for some districts, the reliance on locally raised property taxes jumps significantly, which is the exact opposite result the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the Ohio General Assembly to fix four different times.

Last school year, for example, several school districts saw their state-funded share of the education funding pie drop by as much as 27 percent. Here is a list of the top 25 percentage state funding share drops.

As you can see, the major urban school districts see the largest percentage of state aid cut from charter school deductions. So this means the state's unconstitutional funding system that relied too much on property taxes is exacerbated the worst in our urban core.

But there is also a phenomenon that pro-charter advocates rarely discuss: What about school districts that don't raise enough local revenue to make up for their huge state funding losses to charter schools?

Yes, there are school districts that fit this mold. In fact, about 15 percent of Ohio's school districts fit this bill as kids in 100 school districts lose overall funding to charter school deductions.

That's right. In 100 Ohio school districts, charter schools take so much of their state revenue that these districts can't raise enough property taxes to make up the difference.

Here are the top 25 overall, per pupil funding losses to charter schools. Remember that every kid in each of these districts lose overall funding because charter schools take so much local revenue the local districts can't raise enough property taxes to fill in the gap.

Now these per pupil funding losses are not enormous. But the fact is that they happen, and they do so fairly frequently. And even when they don't, the charter school funding system makes our state's unconstitutional, property tax overreliance worse, not better.

It would be one thing if charter schools were providing better educational options for our kids. But they, on the whole, are definitely not doing that.

So here's the result of more than $11 billion spent over 20 years on Ohio charter schools: schools that perform worse than the schools they were meant to compete with all while making Ohio's school funding system more unconstitutional.

Think we need some reform?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

New Sponsor Ratings Reveal Flaws in Ohio Charter Reform

The latest Ohio Charter School Sponsor evaluations are out, and once again there are serious incongruities with overall and academic ratings. Some of the sponsors (non-profit organizations that oversee Ohio's charter schools) with the highest academic ratings may be forced to close as soon as next year because their overall rating is poor or ineffective.

Meanwhile, some sponsors with effective ratings -- meaning they can keep taking on more charter schools -- have D or F grades for academics.

This system comes from House Bill 2 -- Ohio's most far-reaching attempt to reform its nationally ridiculed charter school system. The goal of the evaluation system was to put the screws to the non-profit sponsors, which are supposed to ensure the academic performance of its charter schools, but had mostly just been interested in collecting their 3 percent fees from the schools and let the schools do whatever.

The evaluations rate sponsors on a four-tier scale. The tiers from top to bottom are: Exemplary, Effective, Ineffective and Poor. If they rate in the top two categories, they can keep running charter schools. Rate in the bottom two and they may be forced to shut down. But it looks like there remain kinks in the evaluation system -- kinks I was concerned about from the very beginning of the House Bill 2 debate, despite my overall support for the bill.

What you can see in the chart to the left is a couple things: 1) All the highest rated academic sponsors are public entities -- primarily school districts and 2) While 6 of the 9 highest rated academic performers received an effective or exemplary rating, 2 were deemed ineffective and one was rated poor, meaning it will be banned from operating anymore as a sponsor.

This outcome is not in the spirit of House Bill 2 -- the landmark charter school reform law that set up this system. However, it is in the actual law. Why? Because there are three elements to the sponsor rating -- academics, adherence to current Ohio regulations and compliance with national sponsor standards set by the national charter school sponsor lobbying organization.

Sounds fair, right? Except all three measures have to be weighed equally under the law. Quick, what's your GPA if you get an A and two Fs? Right. B-. But what if you're an English major and you get Fs in Shakespeare and Chaucer and your A is in Bowling? Shouldn't it matter that you're failing at your primary function? Likewise, what if you're getting an A in Shakespeare, but you get Fs in Calculus and Chemistry?

I see the state's charter school sponsors' primary job as ensuring the academic quality of the schools they oversee. If they can dot their bureaucratic i's and cross those t's, fine. But it doesn't matter nearly as much to me as whether their kids are learning.

This is why I've pushed for greater importance to be placed on the Academic portion of the evaluation than the other two, mostly bureaucratic, portions. This way, Scioto County Career Technical Center could still sponsor its school because the school is doing very well. The Department of Education could then work with the sponsor to help dot its i's a little better. But shutting down one of only 8 out of 45 Ohio charter sponsors to receive an A for academics seems misguided and prime bureaucratic bungling.

Likewise, I would like to see sponsors with D or F ratings not be able to be considered Effective, thereby being allowed to open more charter schools.

I understand that many of these poorly rated sponsors have far more schools than the ones with higher academic ratings. However, there is also an argument to be made that with more schools, there's more leeway for failure -- one school's failure shouldn't be as important if you have 20 others that don't. Sponsors with one school sink or swim with that one school's performance.

It is also remarkable that of the 17 sponsors with D or F academic ratings, only 7 are rated overall as ineffective or poor. So while the top end of the academic rating scale is primarily populated by the top two overall sponsor ratings, the bottom end of the academic rating scale is not likewise populated by poor overall ratings.

This tells me that academically poor performing sponsors have figured out the GPA conundrum I mentioned earlier, and that if they simply pay more attention to bureaucratic details, their academic performance won't matter. That's because academics are only 1/3 of your rating. Bureaucracy is worth 2/3 of your rating.

I have said and will continue to say that a sponsor's academic rating should count for 50 percent of a sponsor's grade, with the other two counting 25 percent each.

Until this adjustment (or something like it) is made, we will continue to put some of the best academic performing sponsors on notice and let slide many of the worst performers.

How Kids Not in Charters Are Hurt by Charter Funding System -- A Case Study

It's really easy to sit back and make esoteric arguments about how Ohio's charter school funding system hurts kids who are not in charter schools. And there's a recognition from leaders in the Ohio General Assembly that the funding system -- which diverts state funding meant for a district to a charter -- is a shell game that leave school districts with far less state revenue than the state says they need to effectively educate their students. This, in turn, forces school districts to use sometimes large segments of their locally raised revenue to make up the difference.

But what does that mean for a kid attending a local public school district?

As an example, I'm going to use a student in Columbus City Schools. Let's assume he or she started first grade in the 2005-2006 school year, which would make this student a senior this year (by the way, I was first elected to the Ohio House in 2006. Wow, does this make me feel old!)

Anyway, I looked at how much state funding this student lost each year of their career because charter schools receive so much more per pupil state funding than Columbus City Schools would have received for the same kids. (Looking at state funding reports here and doing addition and subtraction based on number of students in Columbus before and after charter students leave, as well as how much state funding comes to Columbus before and after charter students leave.)

Yes, I know charters can't raise local revenue. However, the legislature has chosen to not put its money where its school choice mouth is and create a separate fund to make charter schools whole. Instead, they make up a chunk of the local funding disparity by removing extra state funding from the local school district's bottom line, forcing local property taxpayers to do their work for them.

So, for every student who began their Columbus City Schools career in 2005-2006, they have received $10,548 fewer in state revenue, with another $1,142 set to be lost this, their senior year (charter enrollment is so volatile, this figure could change substantially during the year). To give you a sense of scale, that amount equals about the amount of state funding these Columbus students received their first three years of school -- in many ways the most important years.

So because of Ohio's charter school funding system, kids in Columbus essentially are fully locally funded for about 3 of their 12 years in Columbus City Schools. The state only gives them their state funding for about 75 percent of their academic careers. All so schools like the nation's largest dropout factory -- the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (which has received the most money from Columbus of any charter for several years) -- can keep collecting their money and failing to graduate even 4 out of 10 students.

Yes, there are high performing charter schools in Columbus (and elsewhere). I visited one on Monday -- United Preparatory Academy - State. And they are doing great work for many kids. But at what cost to the 90 percent of Ohio's kids who aren't attending charters?

Let me say this is not UPA's problem. It's a state leadership and legislative problem.

But is it worth the relatively small successes statewide in a handful of charter schools so every kid (let me repeat, every kid) in Columbus loses 1/4 of their state revenue over the course of their academic careers?

And what's the impact on local taxpayers?

Local Columbus taxpayers have had to subsidize charter schools to the tune of $556 million during our hypothetical student's career. In other words, more than 1 out of every 10 dollars raised locally during that time frame have gone to fill in the lost state revenue to Ohio charter schools, increasing the district's reliance on property taxes to pay for schools, which is the exact opposite of what the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the state legislature to do four different times.

The chart on the left shows you how many local property taxes were raised in Columbus since the 2005-2006 school year (from the Ohio Department of Taxation), and how many were left after the state funding lost to charters was taken out.

These results are repeated throughout Ohio. Urban. Suburban, Small Town, Rural districts. No type of district is immune from these charter funding problems.

Statewide, the average Ohio student who started first grade in the 2005-2006 school year has lost $2,332 in state funding during their academic careers to the charter school deduction, with another $242 expected to leave in this, their senior years. And local taxpayers have been forced to use roughly 4 percent of their property tax levies to make up for that loss -- money no voter ever approved for such a purpose (except, it could be argued, for a 15-mill levy in Cleveland that partially goes to charters).

The system has been broken since the beginning. Ohio needs to develop a funding system that accurately calculates the cost of education in charter schools and doesn't fundamentally hurt kids whose parents choose to keep them in local public schools. Lawmakers need to put their money where their mouths are and fund charters fairly using their own, committed state resources, not exacerbate an already unconstitutionally funded school system that's increasingly reliant upon local property taxes.

Our kids desperately need this system to change so it can work for all of them. For it currently works for none of them.

Monday, November 6, 2017

ECOT Enrollment Down 20 Percent. Charter Enrollment Down for 4th Consecutive School Year.

It appears that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- the state's first and (maybe) largest online school and nation's largest dropout factory -- has adjusted its enrollment figures to adapt to the Ohio Department of Education's newfound interest in verifying their students.

ECOT was found to have overinflated its student counts by 60 percent in the 2015-2016 school year and 20 percent last school year. The state now says ECOT owes taxpayers more than $80 million in back payments for those two school years.

However, it does appear that this year's enrollment drop, which came after after ECOT's annual October headcount performed by the Ohio Department of Education, matches up with what ODE determined was last year's enrollment inflation at ECOT.

Prior to October's count, ECOT was being funded for 14,209 students. After the October count, that number dropped to 11,382. ODE has not posted the detailed, grade-level October headcounts yet for this year.

These detailed data have increased importance this school year for ECOT because they have a preliminary "Dropout Recovery and Prevention" status, which grants them much easier accountability standards, allowing them and their sponsor -- the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West -- to keep operating and collecting large sums of taxpayer funding with little consequence for the school's putrid performance.

However, the school has to show that more than half of their students are older than 16 and enrolled in a dropout prevention or recovery program or are in "crisis". Previous years' counts show that ECOT likely would not have met the requirement because it had too many students younger than 16. The October count could clarify whether the school would meet the requirements for the lower academic standards.

The enrollment drop means that ECOT, which was slated to receive $73.6 million after paying back taxpayers for the overbilling issue, will now receive $53.9 million.

In 2015-2016, ECOT received $109 million.

ECOT is suing the state to keep ODE from clawing back the $80 million it took from taxpayers for kids it couldn't prove were actually participating in education programs at ECOT. The school has said that if it is forced to make the payments, it will have to shut down in December.

In a side note, overall charter school enrollment is listed at 110,187, the sector's lowest level since the 2011-2012 school year and what would represent the fourth consecutive year of overall charter school enrollment has dropped from its high of 120,894 students in the 2013-2014 school year.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Charter Schools Do Get Direct Local Funding. Sort of.

OK. This may be a little in the weeds, but I think it's important to point out as we consider charter school funding.

Contrary to the complaints of many, charter schools actually do receive direct local revenue.

Sort of.

Yes, there were eight charter schools that actually received local property tax revenues last year, to the tune of less than $500,000 total. And when charter proponents claim that charters get no local revenue except for a few, this is what they are discussing.

However, until 2012, there was another revenue stream that was considered "local revenue" by the state of Ohio that were not local property or income taxes. These payments (tuition, interest on money, fees, etc.) were considered "local revenue" when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled four different times that Ohio's school funding system was unconstitutional because it relied too much on local sources.

In 2012, in a move I criticized at the time for trying to artificially inflate Ohio's state commitment to education, the state removed these other local revenue streams form the "local funding" calculation and created a new one called "other non-tax". However, because these payments were considered local for the previous 20 years of data, to make state-local, apples-to-apples historic funding comparisons, you have to wrap the "other non-tax" revenue in with the "local revenue" funding stream.

Why am I re-living this intensely nerdy argument? Because this "other non-tax" revenue stream provides a significant chunk of change to Ohio's charter schools, and in a few cases even provides more funding to charters than the schools' state revenue stream.

In fact, last year, 87 percent of Ohio's charter schools received at least some "other non-tax" revenue streams, which until 5 years ago were considered "local revenue." The total was just short of $44 million spread across 328 charter schools. The average per pupil amount for the schools that got this funding was $435. That's not insignificant.

The iLead Spring Meadows and Global Ambassadors Language Academy charter schools both received more of this "other non-tax" revenue, which at one time was considered "local revenue", than they received state revenue. And 38 charters get more than $1,000 per pupil from "other non-tax" revenue sources. The major chunk of these payments come from fundraising or grants the schools receive.

So in addition to receiving far more per pupil state funding and more per pupil federal funding than the Ohio school districts with which charters compete, they also receive significant sums from what until 5 years ago was considered "local revenue".

So what does this mean? It means that charters do get locally raised money, though not from (for the most part) the largest pot of that locally raised money -- property taxes. But it's not entirely accurate to say charter schools don't get local revenue.

Because but for a name change made by bureaucrats five years ago, they actually do.

Sort of.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Are Ohio charter schools public schools? They sure don't act like it.

A recent story in the Columbus Dispatch revealed just how averse to public scrutiny the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow is. While I can't say I was shocked, this did strike me as odd, given how much public heat ECOT has been receiving lately. Surely they are savvy enough to be as open and forthright with the public and the media as possible during their time of great duress.

But no.

Instead, they held an ostensibly "public" meeting that it appears the security guard didn't even know was going on. They initially wouldn't allow a member of the media into the board's committee meeting. Then they went into an executive session during their full meeting -- an executive session I'm willing to bet didn't comply with the notice requirements (24-hour posting and inform the media) under Ohio's Open Meetings Law.

And when the meeting was over, the school's top official wasn't able to give the reporter a copy of the documents produced for the ostensibly "public" meeting. I remind you this is a virtual school. They probably have email.

Oh, but the school's "posh" headquarters (the Dispatch's description) had plenty of pictures of politicians up in the hallways, including Ohio Supreme Court Justice Terrence O'Donnell, who is currently hearing a case against ECOT.

I often hear from Ohio charter school defenders that charter schools are "public schools". If so, why don't they act like it? Perhaps this is why the National Labor Relations Board -- the entity that works out labor disputes in the private sector has asserted jurisdiction over labor disputes in Ohio charter schools.

But lest you think this secrecy is restricted to ECOT, in 2014, the Akron Beacon Journal called 294 charter schools and asked them the following questions:

  • Who runs the building?
  • Who is that person’s supervisor?
  • Who is the management company in charge?
  • How does one contact the school board?
  • When does the board meet?
Want to guess how many refused to give all the information? If you guessed 3 out of 4 charter schools, then you win a cookie.

That's right. Only 80 of 294 charter schools willingly gave all the requested information to the Beacon Journal. This information is pretty basic and minimal.

Again, this is not how public agencies are supposed to operate. 

I ask you another question: If any group of public entities -- schools, cities, townships, villages, counties -- were this poorly responsive to you, the taxpayers that pay their bills and salaries, would you stand for it? 

And would you let them get away with calling themselves "public"?

I don't think so.

Monday, October 23, 2017

American Enterprise Institute Sells Poor Kids Short

I've noticed recently that many have started the "let's get off the four-year degree obsession" and instead encourage kids to go for two-year certificates or Associate's degrees. The American Enterprise Institute is the latest pushing this theme. I agree that two-year degrees and certificates are better than nothing and are a sound decision for many kids, but I have a tough time just resigning our country to the premise that we should just accept fewer kids getting four-year degrees because of this chart from the U.S. Census Bureau:

An Associate's degree will get you a 33 percent higher unemployment rate and 30 percent less income. Not completing a degree hurts more, while stopping at college doubles the unemployment rate and almost cuts income in half.

Are there two-year degrees where recipients can earn more? Sure. Are there Bachelor's degrees where graduates earn less? Sure.

But the nature of public policy is to ensure the greatest opportunity for the most people. And making four-year degrees the expectation for as many kids as possible grants kids, literally, a $1 million opportunity over their lifetime.

But what really gets me is this: None of these studies are offering solutions to increase access to the four-year degree; it's simply lowering the bar and trying to rationalize why we should focus more on the two-year track.

A major reason kids go for two-year degrees over four-year degrees is cost. It's too hard for kids, especially those without a ton of means, to afford college. Especially if they don't have 4.0 GPAs. But kids with Bs and Cs in high school can succeed in a four-year program.

I see it every day when I teach freshman composition at the University of Akron.

Yet the scholarship opportunities for these students just aren't there. So we force them to go into massive debt, work several jobs, or lower their expectations and go for a two-year degree. Then we have places like the American Enterprise Institute try to make that sound like not just a good outcome, but one that represents good, sound policy.

But all we're doing is resigning less wealthy students to lesser opportunity when we should be affording them more opportunity by reducing the financial barriers to the four-year degree. Because as much as we want to argue that two-year degrees are just fine for families and kids who don't have the means to access a four-year degree, I'm looking at the chart to the left and find a strong correlation between a state's median household income and its educational attainment. And, in fact, the correlation coefficient of those two columns is 0.83 -- a strong correlation, though not perfect. This means the greater the percentage of Bachelor's degrees, the greater the income.

In short, getting more people into the middle class necessarily means a greater public policy commitment to increase access to the four-year degree. While two-year degrees and vocational training can help, I'm even concerned about the long-term viability of some vocational skills, given the rapid development of robotic alternatives. We should, though, stop merely talking about the importance of a four-year degree and instead actually fund those opportunities so every kid can access this million dollar dream.

For example, in 1975, Ohio spent more than 15.7 percent of its state budget on higher education. Today, it's about 1/3 the percentage. Ohio is not alone in its de-commitment to the four-year degree. But investing in our state's and nation's youth is as sound an economic development investment as there is.

Why we don't do it more than we do is beyond me.

Friday, October 20, 2017

I Strike a Nerve and Fordham Attacks

I guess I should have figured this was coming, but apparently my recent posts about how poorly charter schools do on performance index, college graduation, and closing achievement gaps relative to local school districts finally sent was too much for my friends at Fordham over the edge.

In what can best be described as a exasperated, indignant scream wide-ranging, personal attack, Fordham's Jamie Davies O'Leary -- with whom I've enjoyed a respectful dialogue in the past and hope to continue to do so -- finally lets loose and doesn't assail what I said really, or even deal with the fact that charters do perform worse than districts; she lashes out at attacks me for daring to compare charters with districts in the first place.

(Earlier posts included language that I thought accurately reported the tone of Jamie's piece. After thinking on it for the weekend, I agree with her that my choice of words could be seen to have carried with them an unfortunate gender stereotype. That was not my intent. However, out of respect for Jamie and all women, I have changed the language to be more neutral and am sorry for the unintended overtones.)

I have explained why this is a perfectly fair comparison many times, but given Jamie's diatribe, I suppose I have to re-cap this for everyone.


In Ohio, when a charter school receives a new student, the state sends the school $6,000 (plus more for categoricals, but that's a long story) from the pot of money the state was going to send to the district the student came from.

The problem is what if the student would have received only $3,000 from the state if she had remained in the district?

What happens is that the $3,000 in state revenue the state would have sent to the district for that child is shipped off to the charter, but, so is $3,000 meant for EVERY OTHER KID IN THE DISTRICT.

It doesn't take long for that disparity to add up to real dollars -- dollars that local taxpayers (many of whom do NOT have kids in the schools) have to fill in to keep pace.

This is not some hare-brained, left wing fantasy. This is what both the Republican Chairman of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee and the Republican Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee say.

Because this is what the state data say.

According to the final state payment made to school districts from June, there were 1.7 million students in Ohio set to receive $7.95 billion in total state aid. That's works out to $4,657 (I'm rounding here) for every student in local public school districts.

Then come charter schools.

According to the report, $898 million left school districts last year for charters (a district-by-district breakdown I received from the Ohio Department of Education puts that tally at $935 million, so there's that). Leaving with that funding were 113,613 students.

So, after losing the funding and students to charter schools, the remaining 1.59 million children in Ohio school districts were set to receive $7.05 billion in state revenue, or $4,425 each.

That means that the charter deduction costs every kid in Ohio school districts, on average, $231.51.

This is why I compare charter school performance with school district performance. Because charter schools affect every kid in a school district. Profoundly. How profoundly? Let's look at Columbus.

Prior to the charter school deduction, every kid in Columbus City Schools is set to receive $4,559 in state funding. However, once the $145.65 million and 18,541 students are transferred to charter schools, the remaining 53,532 students who attend Columbus City School buildings receive $3,418 per pupil. That is a difference of $1,141.62. So charter schools cost students who are in Columbus City Schools about 1/4 of their state revenue. That's every student in Columbus, regardless of wealth, race, or disability, Jamie.




So if this profound a change in state funding is going to happen for the 75 percent of children who remain in Columbus City Schools, or the 93 percent of children who remain in Ohio's local public school districts, we'd better be damn sure it's worth it. Is it worth removing $1,141.62 from kids in the best performing school in Columbus so thousands of kids can go to ECOT, for example (ECOT is the largest recipient of charter school transfer funding from Columbus)?

I would say that's a big, "No."

Now my friends at Fordham often complain that charters don't get local revenue. And while that's true, I fail to see how that justifies removing millions of state dollars from kids in local school districts. If the legislature believes in school choice so strongly, then set aside $260 million or so to make up for the lack of local revenue.

Stop taking it from the 1.59 million kids who aren't in charters.

Anyway, this funding problem is the primary reason why I use charter-district comparisons.

But there are many others, such as how charters are considered Local Education Agencies, just like districts. Or how they are required to have treasurers and superintendents, just like districts. Or how they are funded just like districts. Or how they are slated to be opened in a community based on how the district performs on the performance index score. That's how every building in the district performs, not just the worst ones.

I could go on. But suffice it to say if you're funded like a district. If you're considered a district for federal grant making purposes. If your funding comes from every student in every building in a district. If kids in 608 of 613 districts lose state funding to charters. Then, dammit, you don't get to have your performance judged only with the worst performing buildings in the worst performing districts.


Nor do you get to only count certain report card measures, especially when you were the greatest champion for an A-F report card that Fordham claimed would help parents "discern quality". Unless, apparently, those grades are bad in most measures and those schools are charters.

I also take serious issue with O'Leary's main premise -- that I'm somehow standing up for districts while she is standing up for kids. It's in the title of her piece "Schools were meant for kids, not the other way around". This is a common argument made by pro-charter school advocates: those who dare question charter efficacy clearly are just trying to protect bureaucrats while charter school advocates are White Knights charging to children's defense.

This saccharine, sanctimonious appeal is so much hogwash that it would sweep the hogs upstream.

In Ohio, 93 percent of children attend school districts. The state's charter school funding system means $231.51 fewer state dollars, on average, for that 93 percent of students. How is standing up for the rights of the 93 percent of kids in Ohio's school districts to not have their funding cut by school choice programs anti-student or anti-parent again?

Seems to me that standing up for the rights of 7 percent of the kids and parents to the detriment of 93 percent of kids and parents is far more anti-student and anti-parent. Especially when the performance of those buildings to which the 7 percent move is, for the most part, so comparatively dreadful.

As I've said a million times before (though it appears some just won't listen), I am not anti-school choice. But if we are going to have school choice, we must create a regime that encourages quality school options for students while funding it in a way that doesn't hurt the 93 percent of students who are not in charters.

Until this state wakes up and addresses these two fundamental flaws, I will oppose what we're doing. And, yes, Jamie, I will compare charter school performance with school districts'.

I wish my friends at Fordham would take the same pledge, but their dogmatic adherence to the sanctity of parental choice has blinded them. Not all school choice advocates are so blinded, though. Some have looked at the last 20 years of results and said ,"I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state."

My friends are Fordham are simply trying to hail a cab that is blocks away, headed in the wrong direction. And that's a shame.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Ohio GOP Legislators: Pay schools even if kids aren't there

Well it's come to this: Former Ohio legislators are now telling the Ohio Supreme Court that the state should pay schools for kids the schools says are there, even if they really aren't.

The filing was made on behalf of five former Republican members of the Ohio General Assembly earlier this month in a case that could well determine the very existence of Ohio's largest virtual school and the nation's largest dropout factory.

Does it surprise you that these legislators (according to Follow the Money) have received more than $50,000 in campaign contributions from Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow founder William Lager, and nearly $135,000 total from Lager and David Brennan -- Ohio's charter school Godfather?

In fact, the lead legislator on the filing is William Batchelder -- one of the longest serving state legislators in history who was Brennan's bag man on Ohio's school voucher legislation in the mid-1990s. Batchelder left the legislature in 2014. Shortly after that, he fell into a new job -- lobbying for Bill Lager. Makes sense. Lager had paid him $45,000 (not to mention the tens of thousands he paid to the Ohio House Republican Caucus during Batchelder's time as Speaker of the House). Batchelder collected $67,000 from Brennan, and even more if you include Brennan's wife, Ann.

The second legislator named is Chuck Calvert, who left the legislature the year I was elected, so I never really knew him. But he was the powerful chairman of the House Finance Committee for years. He collected $6,000 each from Lager and Brennan.

Then there's Mike Gilb -- a lawmaker from Northwest Ohio who took $4,000 from Brennan.

Jim Trakas is next, who collected $5,000 from Brennan and is now running dropout recovery schools in Cleveland that graduated 26 of 142 possible students last year.

Finally, Bryan Williams, who is now the Summit County Republican Party Chairman, replacing longtime Chairman Alex Arshinkoff. Here's a profile of Williams on the 3rd Rail Politics website, which has deep connections with ECOT and its officials. Williams took money from Brennan during his time in the legislature, which ended in 2004.

But this isn't the only issue here. What these legislators are saying is when they developed the state's nationally ridiculed charter school funding and accountability system, they didn't mean for the Ohio Department of Education to check whether the kids charter schools were claiming to educate were actually being educated. All that mattered was whether the schools claimed that the students were there.

I kid you not. These former legislators are all arguing that they meant for ECOT to get their money regardless of whether the student was even participating in an educational program at ECOT.

What an indictment of our state's charter school regime.

Oh, did I mention that four of the seven Ohio Supreme Court Justices hearing the ECOT case have taken money from Lager (Justices O'Connor, O'Donnell, French and DeWine)?

Is it any wonder why Ohio's charter school funding system feels so rigged against taxpayers? And why schools like ECOT, which perform so poorly yet are paid so richly, are such a subject of national scorn?

One more interesting and telling thing about the filing: No current legislators signed onto it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

State Report Card: Disadvantaged students' performance gaps grew more in charters than school districts

In the new state report cards there's something called "AMO". AMO stands for Annual Measurable Objective. I know. What the hell does that mean?

In short, really nothing. What AMO does is measure the proficiency score performance gaps between races and socioeconomic groups. So AMO will tell you how much better or worse a group of students perform when compared with students as a whole.

Generally, we've all heard about the so-called "achievement gap" between minorities and Whites. But AMO also measures disparities between poor students, disabled students and non-English speaking students.

Why do I spend all this time explaining this obscure metric? Because it's one of the more important measurements the Ohio Department of Education puts together. It holds schools and districts accountable for ensuring all kids succeed, not just the ones who have all the advantages. In many ways, AMO is a testament to the Civil Rights movement and its call for equal opportunity.

Now there are serious issues with AMO, not the least of which is it measures performance almost solely based on state tests (it also includes attendance and graduation). It does not measure educational opportunities afforded different groups of students that provide just as stiff a barrier to equity as tests, such as whether there are gaps in access to advanced courses, arts programs, or other opportunities advantaged students have.

Yet despite AMO's limited scope, I still like the idea of holding even the wealthiest districts and schools in the state to account for how their least advantaged students fare. It means that wealthy areas can't just ignore these kids without consequence. For example, if Upper Arlington's C in AMO forces them to divert more resources to their few disadvantaged kids, that's a good thing.

Again though, I would prefer more measures of opportunity be included beyond just limited test scores.

Be that as it may, looking at AMO results for Ohio charter schools and Ohio school districts, charter schools saw far greater performance gaps in reading and math than school districts. And, more troubling, a far greater percentage of gap growth compared with the previous school year.

So achievement gaps are growing wider and quicker in Ohio charter schools than Ohio school districts.

For example, more than 21 percent of charter school achievement gaps for African-American students grew larger in reading. That happened less than 10 percent of the time in school districts. Meanwhile, charter school reading achievement gaps for poor students grew at three times the rate of school districts. Overall, reading achievement gaps in Ohio charter schools grew bigger at more than 4 times the rate of their school district competitors.

The same holds true for math scores. African-American achievement gaps grew at a 40 percent higher rate in Ohio charter schools and poor student gaps grew nearly 50 percent more. Overall, achievement gaps for all students grew larger at a 60 percent greater rate in Ohio charter schools than school districts.

While it is true that more times than not Ohio's charter schools shrank rather than grew the gaps, Ohio school districts were simply far better at shrinking their prior year's gaps than their free market counterparts.

What does this mean? It means that far from granting greater equity for disadvantaged students, as many choice advocates claim, with some even suggesting that access to charter schools is a civil right, Ohio charter schools actually exacerbate achievement gap issues, which is the exact opposite of the civil rights movement's goal.

I find it difficult to argue it's a civil right for disadvantaged kids to access a system that is more likely to make their achievement disparity with their advantaged colleagues worse.

As I've said many times before -- after 20 years and $11 billion, is this the best our state's charter schools can offer?

Monday, October 16, 2017

State Data: Ohio Charter School Graduates Far Less Likely to Earn College Degrees than even Urban District Graduates

One of the more interesting -- and telling -- datasets now available with the state report card is how kids who graduate from Ohio's schools perform after they graduate. For example, we now know the percentage of graduates who have a college degree within 6 years, as well as how many graduates have enrolled in college within 2 years of graduation.

Looking at these two metrics, it's remarkable how bad charter school perform. Overall, Ohio school districts have 5 times the rate of students with college degrees that charters have. And Big 8 urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati. Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) have twice the rate.

Meanwhile, of the 31 Ohio charter schools that have graduates counted for this metric, 7 (23 percent) had zero graduates with college degrees within six years of graduation.

And the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow? That's right.

Only 109 of 3,794 ECOT graduates from 2010 have a college degree today. That's an amazing 2.9 percent. Cleveland -- which had about 100 fewer 2010 graduates as ECOT (not to mention far greater rates of poverty, special education, and minority students) -- had about 3.5 times as many graduates with college degrees as ECOT.

There is only one Ohio charter school with a higher percentage of college graduates than the average Ohio school district -- The Dayton Early College Academy at 42.4 percent -- a remarkably good rate given that Dayton City overall had a 13.6 percent rate. DECA's rate is about the same as suburban districts like Gahanna-Jefferson and North Olmsted, which, considering that about 98 percent of their students come from Dayton, is a great achievement.

But remember that DECA is the exception, not the rule.

Not surprisingly, the number of charter graduates who have been enrolled in college within two years of their high school graduation is also far lower in charters overall than school districts.

Barely 1 in 5 Ohio charter school graduates are enrolled in college within 2 years of graduating high school. More than 3 in 5 school district graduates are, while 2 in 5 urban school district graduates are.

Ultimately, education is about preparing children for lifelong success, not just test scores. Earning a college degree substantially increases lifetime earnings and decreases the likelihood of citizens needing to access the social safety net, as well as running into trouble.

According to this data from the state report card, Ohio charter schools, overall, hurt their students' ability to achieve the million dollar promise of a college education and instead contribute to their students' ability to access the social safety net over their lifetimes.

After $11 billion spent on charters since 1998, is this really the best we can do?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

New Data: $3 out of every $5 Ohio charters received last year came from equal or better performing districts

Since 2014, Know Your Charter -- a website developed between Innovation Ohio and the Ohio Education Association -- has provided a unique dataset that I developed for them. The set calculates how much money is transferred from a school district to a charter school that performs better, the same or worse on more report card measures. It is the only ongoing, statewide comparison of its kind in the country.

Every year, about $3 of every $5 sent to Ohio charters go to charters that do no better or worse than the district the child left.

This past 2016-2017 school year was no different, as I wrote in Know Your Charter's most recent report. Of $935 million transferred from school districts to charter schools last year, $553 million went to charters that did no better or worse on more state report card measures. That's just about 60 percent.

Even more remarkable is that $370 million went to charters that didn't receive a single penny from a district that performed worse on more state report card measures, accounting for about 1/2 of all Ohio charter schools. And a startling $167 million went to charters that took all their money from better performing schools, accounting for about 1/3 of all Ohio charter schools. These didn't even tie a single time.

Here's the thing, though. That $167 million easily could be $270 million if you include the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. However, a single $2,500 transfer of ECOT's $103 million came from a district that performed the same on the state's report card measures as ECOT. So I didn't include ECOT in the Know Your Charter calculation, even though 99.998 percent of that notorious school's money came from districts that outperformed it on more report card measures.

While the number of charters that take all their money from better performing districts is remarkable, equally remarkable is how few Ohio charter schools, conversely, take all their money from districts that perform worse.

Only 7 of 370 charter schools last year took all their money from worse performing districts. And 13 took all their money from districts that did the same or worse. Here's a list of the charters that took all their money from worse performing districts:

While there have been steps taken on the path toward respectability for Ohio's beleaguered charter school sector, the fact remains that far too often, significant sums of taxpayer dollars go from better performing districts to worse performing, privately run educational options.

I've said this many times, but it bears saying again: I'm not against school choice. However, I am against a school choice regime that funds options that do a worse job educating children while removing opportunities from children whose parents send their kids to local public school districts.

And that's another thing we've learned from this last school year: Ohio's charter schools, because they receive so much more per pupil state funding than local school districts, force those districts to fill in the lost state revenue with locally raised mostly property taxes -- a fact now acknowledged by legislators on both sides of the aisle. Last year that amount was $222.1 million.

Every year, I keep hoping state leaders wake up and realize that Ohio's school choice options too often provide worse options and have the compounding effect of making school districts have to rely even more on local property taxes to pay for these worse performing options. Last I checked, overreliance on property taxes -- before charters even existed -- was deemed unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Let's try to create a system that rewards the charters that are serving kids. And let's do it at the expense of the charters that aren't.

I know. That makes too much sense.

But our kids deserve a better system than the one our state's adults have concocted.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Ohio's School Districts Outperforming Charter Schools at Historically High Rate on Performance Index Score

Under Ohio law,  the state's performance index score is the primary determinant of whether a charter school will open in your community. The score is a weighted measure of student standardized test scores -- scores notoriously linked to student demographics.

The state's scores have dropped overall during the last several years as new tests and standards have forced schools and students to adjust their learning. However, what is clear from an examination of Ohio's historic performance index results is that Ohio's public school districts have been much better at adjusting to the changes than Ohio's charter schools.

In fact, the last two school years -- while representing the two lowest median performance index scores for school districts -- represent the two largest relative score differentials between districts and charters ever recorded.

What's that mean? It means that while Ohio's school districts have dropped, charters have dropped more, making the score disparity between the two larger than ever. The 2015-2016 school year saw districts outperform charters by nearly 50 percent. Last year, it was closer to 45 percent.

For several years, the gap had been narrowing -- especially after the state effectively removed the 90 worst performing charters from qualifying for the performance index score after the 2011-2012 school year.

However, while Ohio's school districts saw a quick, two-year 13 percent drop in performance index scores, charters saw a 27 percent drop during that period -- more than double the relative dip.

Again, the reason I'm harping on performance index scores, though I agree with my charter school advocate friends that the scores are too closely tied to demographics, is because performance index scores are the primary reason charter schools can open in school districts. If school districts score in the bottom 5 percent of districts on performance index, charters can come to town.

However, it is abundantly clear that in the vast majority of cases, those charters will produce performance index scores that are often far worse than the districts whose scores are so troubling to lawmakers they allow competition to ostensibly improve the community's educational options.

If performance index is the measure by which we are determining this need for district competition, what does it say that the alleged competitors score so much worse?

Suffice it to say I get why charter school advocates are now trying to move away from proficiency based accountability regimes. Call me cynical if you wish, but I wonder how much of this move by charter advocates is about the fact that charters overall just perform more poorly than their district competition?

The Quiet Importance of Ohio's Performance Index Score

Many in the charter school advocacy community have been pushing to have the state only judge charter schools by their so-called "value-added" scores -- the amount of student growth shown during the year on the state's battery of standardized tests. Among the advantages these advocates stress is how the value added scores tend to be less influenced by demographics than straight proficiency scores.

Value added measures have real limitations as well, including many critics who claim value added scores are equally problematic for accountability purposes as proficiency scores.

However, proficiency scores continue to be among the most important single state report card indicators. Why? Because according to state law, if a school district scores in the bottom 5 percent of performance index scores, charter schools can come to town. Performance index is calculated by weighting scores depending on how high or low students score on state proficiency tests.

So despite charter school advocates' admission that what testing critics have said for years -- that proficiency scores are closely tied to demographics -- and their insistence that value-added scores be the primary determinant of a school or district's success, these advocates have been silent on this fundamental provision of state law that determines whether a school district will have publicly funded, privately run schools competing for students and dollars.

Here's one reason why they may remain silent on this issue: Charter schools, which are meant to provide options to parents in districts with poor proficiency scores, have even worse performance index scores than the bottom 5 percent of districts.

According to the current list of "challenged school districts" put out by the Ohio Department of Education (the list was frozen after the 2013-2014 school year as Ohio transitions to its A-F report card), there are 24 districts that qualified then for charter schools under the performance index performance criterion. There are an additional 15 that qualify because they were part of the original pilot program (Lucas County schools) or are a big 8 urban district (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown).

The median performance index score for those 24 "challenged school districts" was 83.058 (out of 120 possible) in 2013-2014. Do you know how many charter schools outperformed that score on the last report card? If you guessed 23, you'd be right.

That's 23 out of 265 charters that had performance index scores recorded by the state -- a staggeringly low 9 percent of Ohio charter schools. That does not include the 90 or so dropout recovery schools, which do not receive performance index scores, but that routinely rated as the worst performing schools in the state prior to receiving their far more lenient report card. For example, in the last year dropout schools received performance index scores (2010-2011), they scored 10 points lower than their non-dropout recovery counterparts.

The amazing thing is there are fewer charters that currently outperform Ohio's lowest performing school districts than there are currently "challenged school districts" due to their poor proficiency scores!

More than 94 percent of money being spent on Ohio charter schools with performance index scores goes to charters currently with worse performance index scores than the school districts whose scores were so bad state lawmakers called them "challenged" enough to allow charter schools to come in to offer "better" options ...
6 percent of the time!

What do you suppose will be state lawmakers' response to this conundrum -- the alleged solution is even worse performing than the problem it was meant to solve? If you guessed nothing, you're cynical. But you're probably right.

This is also why I continue to compare district performance with charter school performance.

Sorry guys.

School districts' performance on the very measures charter advocates criticize the state for using to judge their favorite schools' performance is being used by the state to determine if charters should open in certain communities.

Yet that same state metric would designate more than 9 of 10 Ohio charter schools a "challenged school district" in desperate need of competition.

For those of you who would charge this comparison is unfair because performance index scores are overall lower today than they were in 2013-2014, applying the same performance index standard for a "challenged school district" today would result in nearly 6 in 10 charters scoring worse.

Again, the designation of a "challenged school district" remains how that school scored in 2013-2014.
But regardless of which criterion you use, charters overall just don't pass muster.

Friday, October 6, 2017

ECOT's Dubiously Claims it will Close in December

Call it a hunch, but I'm betting dollars to donuts that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow's claim in a court filing today that it will close in December if a case doesn't go its way is a bluff to get the Ohio Supreme Court to rule for the school.

According to ECOT's filing, the state's $60 million clawback of taxpayer money ECOT was paid for kids it couldn't prove it had during the 2015-2016 school year will force the school to close in December.

Here's the thing, though. The money "crunch" ECOT is claiming will kill it in December should be there right now. In other words, if that $2.5 million per month deduction the state is taking from ECOT was so onerous, it would have forced the school to close already. Yet the school's already paid back $5 million of their misbegotten money.

But the fact is this: Even with the school's $30 million payment to ODE this school year (ODE split the $60 million into two years of monthly payments), they will still be receiving $73 million, or $5,183 per student from the state. That's still more than what 52 percent of Ohio's school districts receive from the state.

I remind you that ECOT doesn't have buildings, HVAC, busing, lunch ladies, etc. Yet the state pays them more per pupil than more than 1/2 of school districts that do have those costs.

Only in Ohio.

Anyway, that $73 million ECOT would still receive would allow them to pay their teachers, give $2,000 laptops to every student this year (which they do NOT do) and still clear a handsome profit. Just not quite as handsome as its politically connected founder, Bill Lager, is used to receiving. And that's assuming it actually has 14,000 students, which is a dubious proposition given the state's continued inability to find that the school has anywhere near as many kids as it bills taxpayers for educating.

How else do I think it's a bluff? Because according to ECOT's own academic calendar, (at left) they are not just preparing for life after December, but they already have their summer school session laid out for 2018.

I've gone over all this before. But suffice it to say that if ECOT closes in December (which I'm not buying right now), it likely will be because the train can't provide enough gravy. As with most everything about ECOT, the issue won't be about whether it can educate kids. It will be about whether it can further fatten the wallets of the adults ECOT enriches.