Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Arguments, or How To Avoid Investing in Students

The Ohio House of Representatives included the Fair School Funding Plan (FSFP) in its version of the state's biennial budget last week. And already State Senators are pooh-poohing the work of the House Speaker and others -- work that took nearly 5 years to complete. 

Why you'd rip apart the life's work of a House Speaker of your own political party, I have no idea. But let's move on.

There seems to be a common argument being made against the Fair School Funding Plan -- an argument that I thought I'd debunk for you here, Dear Reader.

It goes something like this: The FSFP bases its annual teacher salary -- the largest cost driver of the formula -- on old data. Therefore, when it's calculated in later years, the salaries will skyrocket. Therefore, the formula will cost double, triple, no infinitely more! than the current $1.8 billion plus price tag.

This is utter nonsense.

Between the 2005-2006 school year and this past one, teacher salaries have increased at about 1/3 the rate of inflation, not the huge percentages some in the Senate claim.

And while, yes, additional federal and state money from the American Recovery Plan and the FSFP, respectively, may lead to salary increases, they'll also lead to more teachers being hired, which tends to be at lower salary grades. 

One more thing. The FSFP does not include in its average salary calculation any salaries over $95,000 a year. So let's say half the districts in the state decide to pay their teachers $1 million a year. Not a single one of those salaries will be included in the teacher salary calculation used by the FSFP. 

Not. A. One.

This is a bogus argument meant to stymie the first real hope in over a decade of finally fixing the state's school funding system -- a system that remains unconstitutionally over reliant on property taxes. We're currently at the highest level of local property tax reliance since 1985.

I think what's at play here is very simple: State Senators have been used to underfunding education for so long that when you suggest that (gulp) state aid should actually track with student need, they blanche. 

"Can't you spend what you did 25 years ago and get better results?" they ask. Because that's essentially what they've done and demanded for the last quarter century.

The FSFP actually says, "Let's get the money necessary to meet kids' needs today and into the future."

But State Senators don't know how to cope with that. You know. Providing the money that's needed. They just want to provide the money they think kids deserve. Because that's what they've always done.

I'm thrilled the Ohio House decided to break that three-decade-long cycle.

Now let's work on the State Senate to get them to see the light too. Now's the time.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Let's Talk Charter Schools

Let's discuss charter schools -- a topic you've seen a lot of on this blog over the years, but has kind of gone away recently for obvious (COVID) and non-obvious (Vouchers/School Funding) reasons.

Despite House Bill 2, which was supposed to slim down our notoriously poor-performing charter school sector and the closure of the nation's largest online school -- ECOT -- which closed because the school literally stole hundreds of millions of tax dollars to educate kids they never educated, we are currently spending more on charter schools than any other year on record. 

By a mile.

According to the latest Charter School funding report from the Ohio Department of Education, we are set to spend $999.7 million. The previous record was $955 million from the 2015-2016 school year -- the high-point of the ECOT years.

Despite this massive recent increase (an extraordinary $111 million jump ... over two years), it's not because we've had more students attending charters than ever. 

No. That record remains the 2013-2014 school year when 122,130 students attended charters. 

It's because Ohio politicians have continued bumping up the per pupil amounts flowing to charters. So now kids in Ohio charters, on average, get nearly $8,500 per pupil in state aid -- about double what that same kid would receive in a local public school.

As I've recounted for more than a decade, because of the way we fund charters, that means that local property taxes have to subsidize charter school kids.

It doesn't take a Ph.D. in Rocket Science to understand that if you're removing $8,500 in state aid from a district for a kid the district was only getting about half of that from the state to educate that the difference has to come from somewhere.

This year, that subsidy is slated to be $148 million. And in some districts, it's really high. Like in Columbus where $62 million in local revenue has to subsidize the state funding deduction for charters. 

As an aside, this local subsidy problem could be fixed with House Bill 1, which would directly fund charters and vouchers, among other great things.

Anyway, don't be shocked when you start hearing charter school proponents talk during this budget cycle about charter funding "equity". 

By the way, "equity" in this sense means equality, not the equity you and I think about -- like making sure kids from disparate backgrounds and challenges receive the additional supports they need to succeed. No. When charter folks say "equity", they mean the state should pay charters what districts get from state and local revenue. 

Just keeping it real.

Anyway, the data demonstrates pretty clearly that charter schools have plenty of money right now to educate their kids. Why? Because they don't have to adhere to 150 plus state regulations, pay for buses and pay their teachers 40% less, on average, than districts with leaner benefits.

So you don't have to spend nearly as much in a charter as you do a district.

Want proof?

Let's look at the state's annual expenditure report.

Last year, here's what the average charter and district spent per pupil in six categories: Overall, Instruction, Pupil Support, Staff Support, Operation Support (buildings and buses) and Administration.

Interesting, isn't it? Charters, overall, only spend about $386 less than a school district, even though school districts raise local revenues. Something even more amazing? If you had charters spend what districts did on administration, they could spend what districts do on instruction and pupil support, and have $397 remaining! Which means they could actually spend what districts do in every category but operation support -- not a major issue because charters don't bus many, if any, kids. 

If only charters spent the same 14% of their revenue on non-instructional administrative costs rather than the 24% they currently spend.

I ask you, dear reader, do you think that charter schools need more money? Or more efficiency? 

Hmmm. Where have I heard THAT before? Oh yeah. From charter school proponents about local public school district spending. 


Oh yeah. One more thing. Here's a list of all A-C charter school state report card grades ever earned. 

I give you this overall horrible performance for you to mull over as the state considers investing more than $1 billion in this education sector that's produced more state report card grades of F than all others combined since we've had the A-F system.