Ohio’s charter school program has made remarkable strides as an alternative to the traditional public school system. But from the beginning, the mechanism for funding the rapidly expanding system was — and remains — contentious. Public school administrators, particularly in large urban districts where the majority of charter schools are located, regularly point out that the practice of transferring funds from the resident districts of charter school students diverts essential resources, leaving the traditional schools to scramble continually to make up the gaps.
A recent simulation by the Legislative Service Commission demonstrates the unfortunate tilt toward charter schools would persist in the two-year budget proposed by John Kasich.
The analysis by the nonpartisan legislative research office appears to indicate that if the governor’s proposed funding had applied in fiscal year 2012, 460 of Ohio’s 612 school districts, including some of the poorest, would have lost some of their state funding because of larger deductions going to the privately operated charter schools. The Akron Public Schools would have lost an additional $1.7 million; Canton City schools, more than $900,000; and the Cleveland district, close to $5 million.
Altogether, the governor’s budget proposal is projected to increase the state basic aid deduction, which is the leading component of charter-school funding, by about $35 million for the biennium.
Enrollment in charter schools continues to grow each year. As such, the implication from the analysis is that school districts should expect more funds to be diverted to the alternative school system during the next two years. This amounts to a far cry from the assurance the governor offered school superintendents, pledging essentially that his budget would level the playing field.
With the charter program, Ohio launched a parallel system of public education. But as fast as Ohio’s school-choice options are growing, the reality is the vast majority of students still receive their education in the traditional public setting, in neighborhood schools that increasingly are expected to do more and meet higher standards of performance than ever.
Districts face huge funding challenges in the coming year, to name a couple, the underfunded third-grade reading guarantee and related retention issues, plus a schedule of testing for the new Common Core curriculum, the cost of which neither state nor local administrators are certain. It does not serve the long-term interest of students, or of the state, to subject districts to a constant hemorrhaging of funds, making it more difficult for all but the wealthy districts to maintain the steady financing so crucial to a thorough and efficient system of public education.