Friday, July 24, 2020

Next Speaker Could Be Author of New School Funding Plan. Phoenix Rising?

State Rep. Robert Cupp
State Rep. Rick Carfagna
Apparently, one of the leading names to come out of the Larry Householder collapse amid the state's largest ever, $60 million public bribery scandal is Robert Cupp. Yes THAT Robert Cupp -- the Cupp in the Cupp-Patterson school funding plan.

While I had some reservations about the plan -- namely its equity and some basic calculations -- it is undoubtedly the best school funding plan to come around in over a decade and would put us in a much better school funding place than we are today.

The plan had significant legislative support, but never from Householder, who was (correctly) concerned about the plan's equity.

So does this mean the Cupp-Patterson could soon rise from the ashes if Cupp is sitting in the Lincoln Chair?

Before you get too excited, Cupp isn't the only rumored name out there. Another is State Rep. Rick Carfagna. I don't know what he knows about K-12 funding, but I worked with him on the state's higher education budget last cycle, and I came away impressed.

He listens.

He learns.

He spent several meetings trying to educate the higher education subcommittee on finance (which he chairs) about how higher education funding works -- not an easy task.

While he wouldn't have the instant, deep knowledge of school funding that Cupp does (the state's district profile report that outlines data for every school district in the state bears his name), I'm sure Carfagna would be willing to listen to the school funding needs of this state.

Just not sure it would happen this year.

As for Cupp, his choice would be very interesting. If he's picked, one way the House could begin to  put the Householder mess behind them is to pass the Cupp-Patterson education reform plan. Do something Householder was opposed to (for the right reasons, I might add, but still...) while doing something big and bold for kids and families.

It would certainly change the topic.

The plan's fate in the Senate is less certain.

But passing the Cupp Patterson plan through the House (it's already had tons of hearings) would be a major step forward for education funding in this state. And who better to push it through than one of the plan's namesakes?

Oh yeah. There's one final complication.

Cupp took $24,000 from First Energy.



Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Larry Householder is as corrupt as the day is long. But on Education Policy, he fought the good fight.

Look, we all knew what we were getting into with Larry Householder's return to the statehouse, which effectively ended yesterday when he was arrested by the FBI as the ringleader of a $60 million bribery enterprise.

He had already left the speakership under a cloud of suspicion in 2004. And around Capital Square, it was pretty much assumed -- only partially in jest -- that if you wanted to get anything done, it had to be quick because his dalliances with corruption were sure to draw law enforcement attention.

No more was this felt than in my sector -- Education Policy.

Larry Householder has long been an advocate for fixing our state's broken education funding system, though (importantly) he never got it done. He has stood up for funding of poor kids and black and brown kids. He has been a voucher skeptic and called for the end of for-profit charter schools.

Yet he took tons of money from ECOT -- a for-profit school involved in a $200 million scandal that still dwarfs Householder's caper, by the way.

But it is on school funding that Householder really wanted to leave a mark. It's often told that he claimed it would take a "Perry County Speaker" to fix the problem first addressed by a Perry County judge in the DeRolph case in 1994.

He was the one resisting the Cupp-Patterson education funding plan, even though an overwhelming majority of legislators were for it, because he thought it didn't do enough for kids in poor districts -- a sentiment I shared.

He's also the one who kept the voucher expansion plan championed by state Sen. Matt Huffman from going through and insisted on direct funding of all vouchers so it wouldn't come directly out of school districts' bottom lines.

He didn't like Ohio's overtesting of kids, nor was he a fan of the state report card. He even publicly called out its bias against poor kids and black and brown kids. In fact, he said the reason people flipped out over the voucher expansion was because wealthy suburban schools were suddenly facing the issues that poor and black and brown districts have been facing for years.

Yes, he had a fondness for ECOT (and founder Bill Lager's campaign money). And that was a problem. But he famously called for the end of for-profit charter school operators, like Lager.

On education policy, Larry Householder was one of the few Republican lawmakers I've witnessed who not only got school funding, but wanted to do something real to fix it and had the power to do so.

But wow. Was he corrupt.

He's getting what he richly deserves. But I guess what I'll always think about Larry Householder -- whose prodigious political talent was eclipsed apparently only by his insatiable appetite for money and power -- is what a waste.

He could have fixed school funding.

He could have instituted a better, more reasonable testing and accountability system.

He could have brought sanity to our out-of-control voucher problem.

He could have eliminated the for-profit charter school operators who have ripped off taxpayers for three decades.

He could have done so many good things for schools, kids and parents. Instead, he preferred shaking down companies to maintain power.

It's a sad day for Ohio. But I'll think of Larry Householder's fall as another unfortunate and significant step backward in our state's four-decade-long struggle with school funding.

It's up to us to chart a new path forward. Hopefully with legislators who, like Householder, get school funding, but without the voraciously corrupt appetites.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Ohio Charter Schools get More Per Pupil Federal COVID Relief Money than Many School Districts Received in State Aid. What Gives?

Included in the $2.3 trillion CARES Act passed in March to cope with the COVID-19 crisis was something called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER. This fund set aside $13.2 billion for K-12 schools to cope with the new normal in preparing education spaces for COVID-19. Things like enhanced cleaning, or preparing online learning material, or maximizing spaces to ensure social distancing for potential return to school were the expenses contemplated for this money.

Every school qualified, including charter schools, for this money, some of which was passed out again last week. The money was and is essential to maintain public education through this crisis.

However, only charter schools would qualify for another program included in the CARES Act – the $669 billion Payroll Protection Program (PPP) -- a fund meant to keep small businesses and non-profits afloat during the economic shutdown. Public entities like school districts and local governments did not qualify for the program, which has been essential to keeping businesses from collapsing.

But charter schools, which are organized as 501c3 non-profits, did qualify.

So did their sponsoring organizations.

So did their management companies.

All tolled, a charter school could receive federal money four ways:

  1. Through ESSER, just like every school district in the country
  2. Directly to the school through the PPP
  3. Indirectly through their sponsoring organization through the PPP
  4. Indirectly through their management company (which could be non-profit or for-profit) through the PPP

This resulted in the typical Ohio charter school receiving as much as $817 in total federal CARES Act funding while the typical Ohio public school district only received $150.

That’s more than 5.4 times as much.

In fact, many charters received more per pupil federal aid through CARES Act funding than many public school districts received last year in state aid!

When schools that educate 90 percent of your children get 5.4 times less federal revenue to stay afloat than schools that educate 6 percent of your children, perhaps it's time to examine that federal revenue stream's equity.

Perhaps most outrageous is this result: Children in nearly 1 in 10 charters each received as much federal aid through the CARES Act as children in Columbus – Ohio’s largest school district – received in state aid this year!

There are other shocking incongruities. In no particular order:

  • Charter Schools received as much as $82.3 million in PPP funding either directly or indirectly. They only received $55 million in ESSER funding.
  • Of the bottom half of all districts and charters in per pupil CARES Act funding, only 9 were charters; 444 were districts. 
  • Meanwhile, 97 percent of Ohio charter schools were in the top half of total federal per pupil aid.
  • The top 98 per pupil federal revenue recipients were all charter schools, representing more than 1 in 3 Ohio charter schools.
  • Children in 2 of 3 Ohio school districts got less per pupil federal aid than children in the charter with the lowest total federal aid. 
  • Meanwhile, children in 116 charter schools got as much as $1,000 (or more) each in federal aid. Children in only 3 districts did (Bloomfield-Mespo in Trumbull County, Youngstown and East Cleveland -- the last two of which are state takeover districts). 
  • One charter school (SMART Academy) got as much as $26,000 per pupil in federal money. 

Not every charter school quadruple dipped. But some did. Here’s how it worked in some cases.

The Academy of Urban Scholars in Columbus

  • $108,961 through the ESSER aid that was available through the CARES Act to all Ohio schools. 
  • As much as $700,000 in direct aid from the PPP. 
  • Sponsored by the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, which received as much as $1 million in PPP funding, the relative share of which is $22,265. 
  • They are run by the National Center for Urban Solutions, which received as much as $350,000 in PPP funding -- $213,195 of which would have gone to the Academy.
  • That’s more than as much as $1.04 million in federal CARES Act funding for the school, which has 305 students, which works out to as much as $3,424 per pupil – about the same amount as each student received in state aid last year in Putnam County’s Ottawa-Glandorf Local School District.

There is even one charter school that quintuple dipped.

Village Preparatory School Woodland Hills

  • This school received $501,215 through the ESSER aid
  • They received as much as $1 million in direct PPP funding
  • Village Prep Woodland Hills was sponsored by the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation. Village Prep’s share of the up to $1 million Buckeye received from the PPP would be as much as $35,989.
  • Village Prep is run by the Breakthrough Schools, which received as much as $1 million in PPP funding. However, Breakthrough also has a fundraising arm called the Friends of Breakthrough Schools, which received as much as $350,000 from the PPP program. Village Prep’s share of the $1.35 million total between the operator and its fundraising operation would be as much as $234,668
  • Village Prep Woodland Hills received as much as $1.77 million in federal aid for its 493 students – as much as $3,594 per student, or almost the exact amount of state aid each student received in Tuscarawas County’s Garaway Local School District this year.

Others only triple dipped, but did so at large amounts.

KIPP Columbus

  • The school received $1,081,480 in ESSER funding available to all schools
  • The school also received as much as $5 million in direct PPP funding
  • KIPP is sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which received as much as $1 million in PPP funding, with KIPP’s proportionate share being as much as $256,987 of that
  • So for KIPP’s 1,373 students, it was able to draw down $6.4 million in federal CARES Act funding. That’s $4,638 per student, or as much as $1,379 more than what every student in Columbus received this year in state aid.

No school district could double, triple, quadruple or quintuple dip into federal revenue streams to help its students deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

But charter schools could, and many did.

It is unfair that charter schools – which have for years insisted they are “public schools” – be granted more opportunities to access federal funding than the schools that educate 90 percent of our children simply because of their corporate structure.

And this shows once again how Ohio charter schools are not really “public schools”.

When it benefits them to be considered “public schools”, they tap into those funds.

When it benefits them to be considered businesses, they tap into those funds.

One final reminder: Barely 30 percent of charter school grades are A, B or C. Meanwhile, about 70 percent of school district grades are A, B, or C. Yet the federal CARES Act is providing 5.4 times as much money to the schools that get 70 percent Ds and Fs.

Sometimes I wonder.

Note: “As much as” will be a shorthand for acknowledging that the CARES Act funding as currently reported through the PPP is being reported as a range between two dollar amounts. I reported data for the upper most amount and qualified it by saying “as much as” because the entity could be receiving less than that, but I wanted to explain how much it could be. I would urge the Treasury Department to release exact amounts for a more accurate dollar figure. The calculation was made in the following way: for charter schools, each school was searched for its ESSER funding and whether it is receiving direct PPP funding. Then each charter school’s sponsor, as listed by the Ohio Department of Education was searched. Then each charter’s operator was searched. If a sponsor or operator was found, then the amount granted to those entities were divided by the number of students each sponsor or operator oversaw in all the schools they sponsor or operate. Then each charter school was granted a proportionate share of that overall revenue based on the number of students they had. It was assumed that every dollar received would go to benefit each student through the retention of teachers and staff meant to help educate each student. There were 16 charter schools whose student populations weren’t reported in the state’s charter school directory, or were reported as having 0 students. However, every one of those schools received ESSER funding (a total of $1 million), with some receiving direct and indirect PPP funding. However, because the state didn’t report the student population, they were not included as part of the per pupil calculations utilized in this analysis.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

COVID-19 isn't like Kid Crud. So Maybe Returning to School Won't be a Disaster.

A month ago, I would have told you that sending a bunch of kids indoors into schools during a pandemic was nuts. Dangerous, even.

But then I started reading the literature. And now I'm thinking it may not be as nuts as I originally thought.

I think one thing we all have to deal with (especially us parents) is overcoming our well-founded belief that kids are disease vectors. This is something I (and probably many of you) have experienced over the years. Our kids go to school, come home with the sniffles and suddenly we parents are down for a week or two. Who hasn't explained a persistent cough, fever, sneezing as "kid crud"?

We all have.

Which is why it just seems common sense to think that getting these little disease vectors back in school during COVID would be a horrible idea.

But it appears that, at least with COVID, the "kid crud" prejudice may not be justified.

For example:

  •  One study  found that children were the initial source of infection among the families in about 8% of households.

  • Another study looked at staff and students at five Australian primary schools and 10 high schools and found that out of 863 people who were in close contact with someone with Covid-19, only two got it
  • Another study discovered that a 9-year-old who attended three different schools and a ski class while showing symptoms of Covid-19 didn't infect anyone, which would never happen if the 9-year-old were an adult. 
  • Likewise, British researchers have found only one COVID outbreak in the entire world that could be credibly said to have started in a school.
And while some express caution about these results, with the caveat that no one study proves anything, none other than the American Academy of Pediatrics -- a legendarily cautious and small c conservative organization -- came out and all but said that kids should go back to school buildings in the fall. According to one of the authors of the AAP's school guidance:
"This virus is different from most of the respiratory viruses we deal with every year. School-age kids clearly play a role in driving influenza rates within communities. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Covid-19. And it seems like in countries where they have reopened schools, it plays a much smaller role in driving spread of disease than we would expect."
The AAP recommends taking precautions, but it also says that the mitigating efforts should be geared toward returning kids to classrooms, citing the health concerns kids have with remaining isolated, as well as the fact that in-school learning is so much better, overall, than online learning.

Look, it's been tough for me to turn at all on this issue. Letting kids get together indoors in groups during a pandemic seems completely illogical to me.

But I also have learned to trust science. And the science is saying that physically returning kids to schools, with the attendant precautions (hand washing, mask wearing, socially distancing however you can and making sure you don't go to school sick and go home if you do get sick) may actually work.

This is basically the approach our Gov. Mike DeWine is now advocating, though he isn't mandating any school or district to return full bore this fall. I will be intrested to see how much of the Cares Act money he's willing to spend to help districts and schools cope with the post-COVID reality. But at least he recognizes there will be a need, though importantly he already admits that the new money won't be enough to cover the cost.

Typical Ohio education funding.

Anyway, I know lots of parents will still doubt. Their experience with "kid crud" is so ingrained that they are like I was -- doubting every single piece of evidence that says returning to school isn't as dangerous as our experience suggests.

But the science is telling us something different. And if we want science to govern our COVID response, it's incumbent upon us to let it.

Even when it says we may have to set aside our lifelong battle with kid crud.