One line of thinking at the Statehouse holds that public schools in large urban areas such as Akron already receive sufficient funding. The argument follows that the state must do something other than pour additional resources into these districts. Now comes a study from the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators that begins to peel back the misconception.
The study, performed by Howard Fleeter, a respected and experienced analyst of school funding in Ohio, should be required reading for state lawmakers. It points in the direction of addressing the largest problem in public education, contending with the impact of poverty, and the way it affects academic performance.
Fleeter builds on the Fiscal Benchmarking Report of the state Department of Education, an attempt to compare spending across districts after factoring for students who are economically disadvantaged, have limited English language skills or require special education services. The result is something called the “expenditure per equivalent pupil” — an “apples to apples” comparison that shows the resources available in each district to educate a typical student.
School funding long has been adjusted to compensate for poverty. That explains why Akron, Cleveland, Columbus and other large city districts receive a high level of funding per pupil. The expenditure per equivalent pupil helps in understanding where that money goes. Fleeter has improved the calculation by giving poverty a weight more in line with national research and what other states do.
Where does the money go? A significant share goes to combating the effects of poverty, from a lack of food to troubled neighborhoods to an unstable family life. In Akron, that translates into funding declining from $13,627 per pupil to $8,244 available for educating the typical student.
That’s less than the sum available in Tallmadge, Woodridge, Revere and Hudson, more resources directed to advantaged students than to the most disadvantaged. The dynamic plays similarly in poor, rural districts. Why do these districts often lack such items as Advanced Placement classes or art or band? They first must contend with the fallout from high rates of poverty.
At the Statehouse, the challenge has been identified in efforts such the third-grade reading guarantee and the growing awareness of the importance of early education. What the Fleeter analysis reveals is the depth of the commitment required to advance equality of opportunity.