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

Chris Humphrey

Ken Knodel

Justin Speight

Skip Summerville

Bob Young

Mayor Gerard Neugebauer

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:

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.