John Kasich is preparing to unveil a long-delayed new school funding model to address what he considers a key flaw: an imbalance in school spending. Rob Nichols, the governor’s spokesman, has summed up the administration’s “overarching principle,” telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently: “The money is going to overhead, red tape and bureaucracy instead of instruction. ... We want to flip that and bring more money into the classroom and less into overhead.”
Many times, Kasich has cited a 2010 report by the Brookings Institution and the Greater Ohio Policy Center that ranked Ohio 46th in classroom spending nationwide and 12th highest in administrative costs. As part of the accountability measures, school districts will be ranked on their classroom versus non-classroom expenditures, the ranking to appear on the state report card.
With more than 600 independent school districts in Ohio, it is easy to draw attention to costly duplications and other inefficiencies, both capital and operational. Tight budgets further bolster the argument to free up more scarce resources for activities that increase learning and student success.
Still, school administrators rightly offer a word of caution, citing the difficulty drawing a bright line between instructional and non-instructional expenses. For example, such expenses as professional development, guidance counselors, utilities and transportation are classified as non-instructional. And yet these factors affect directly what goes on in the classroom. Unclear, too, is what level of spending on classroom activities is effective in raising student performance.
As appealing as Kasich’s overarching principle sounds, it is not an idle concern that the narrowly focused agenda could prove a distraction from the critical challenge facing Ohio: the urgency to craft a funding model that resolves the current inequities among and within districts and also provides adequate resources to finance those components that research has proved actually improve student performance. The fear is that a mandate to categorize expenses does not require that the state put any more money on the table for schools but merely serves the governor’s convenience.