Gov. John Kasich put Twinsburg school Superintendent Kathi Powers in a tough situation.
In Kasich’s new funding plan, Twinsburg will receive a 104 percent increase in state support — or about $2.8 million in new dollars next year.
At the same time, Powers is trying to tell the community’s voters that they need to renew a levy on the May ballot.
“[It’s] a bit of a quandary that we’re in,” Powers said.
First, her treasurer can’t make sense of Kasich’s numbers because they don’t match what the Department of Education says the district receives, and second, the increase in state aid makes little difference in a district that generates 90.5 percent of its revenue from local taxes.
Twinsburg is considered a rich school district because of its property wealth, placing the district among the most able to raise local tax dollars to support education.
Woodridge is no different. The governor’s office says the suburban district will receive a 129 percent increase, or $608,675. But the governor's office projected that increase using 5-month-old finance reports that understate Woodridge’s state revenue by $570,676, cutting the new money in Kasich’s simulations to less than $100,000.
An increase of $100,000 has little bearing in a district with a $22 million budget raised almost exclusively from local tax dollars.
“My concern is that [taxpayers] are going to think that suddenly we got a windfall,” said Walter Davis, Woodridge superintendent. And what’s more alarming for Davis and his treasurer is that the governor’s early explanation of how he will reform school funding isn’t holding true.
“I think the way they’re publicizing it is misleading,” Davis said in his office Friday with his treasurer agreeing on the speaker phone behind him. “You almost wish the state hadn’t released things until they had their ducks in a row.”
Kasich’s statements at a private briefing with school officials offered the first glimpse of the problems to come.
In conflicting statements, he said: “If you are poor you’re going to get more; if you’re richer you’re going to get less.” But then, “No school district will receive less money than last year.”
When numbers arrived on Wednesday, treasurers interviewed by the Beacon Journal were unable to determine the impact on his or her district.
The governor’s numbers for Akron, for example, weren’t for Akron Public Schools. The total for Akron reflected dollars going to the traditional public system, the dozens of privately run charter schools and for students attending private schools on vouchers — all as one lump sum. The numbers did not include money for transportation, one of the largest subsidies from the state, and several smaller line items.
Without knowing how funding for vouchers and charters will change, there was no way of knowing how the public school district was affected.
Moreover, the projected funding was compared with 2013 numbers that treasurers could not identify.
“Most people can’t figure out where the 2013 numbers came from,” said Dave Varda, executive director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials. Varda, like many other school financial officers and administrators, said that what the governor has said and what he has shown in the numbers are often different.
Not adequacy or equity
On Thursday Jan. 31: The governor’s office unveiled the “Achievement Everywhere, Common Sense for Ohio’s Classrooms” plan. It states: “Every child deserves a high-quality education regardless of where they live, their circumstances or their own unique learning traits.”
A day later, the governor’s office said there was no effort to determine the cost of an adequate education and to fund that amount.
“We weren’t trying to do a per-pupil costing. The problem with saying, ‘What is the cost to educate a child?’ is there is no magic number,” said Barbara Mattei-Smith, education policy adviser to the governor. “It was really based on that distribution of wealth across the state.”
On Tuesday in testimony to the legislature, Budget Director Tim Keen said the governor’s plan “seeks to close the disparity in resource capacity among school districts, and drive dollars to the classroom based on the needs of individual students.”
On Wednesday, when questioned about spreadsheets showing that wealthy districts were getting large percentage increases in state aid, Mattei-Smith said that the governor had not promised equity in funding. Richard Ross, the governor’s lead education adviser, said that increases in aid to rich districts reflect their enrollment growth. “This represents reality,” Ross said in a conference call with reporters.
More, or less?
On Thursday, Jan. 31: “No school district will receive less money than last year ... If you are poor you’re going to get more; if you’re richer you’re going to get less,” Kasich said as he discussed his plan in a private meeting with school leaders. Wednesday, Kasich’s office released spreadsheets showing how much each district will receive.
Regarding his first statement that no district will get less, that may be accurate in the first and second years, although it is impossible to know because of the mingling of charter and private school money with district funds. The spreadsheet shows that three of every five school districts today receive more money than the formula would allow.
In the first year they will be held harmless with $464 million in “guarantees,” but those districts “should begin preparing for their eventual phase-out.” Mattei-Smith said that as guarantees are reduced by about 10 percent, or $48 million in the second year, that money will be shifted back into the formula, but she said it is not known what will happen after the second year.
Regarding his statement that the rich will get less, which contradicts his statement that no one will get less, the spreadsheets show that the wealthier school districts, as defined by the governor’s methodology, will receive 8.1 percent funding increases, or about $110 per pupil on average, and poorer districts will receive 4.94 percent increases or $282 more per pupil on average.
So, he did in fact direct more dollars per pupil to poor districts. The confusion that occurred last week grew out of the fact that his office delivered spreadsheets showing percent increases in total dollars, not on a per pupil basis.
At the Feb. 4 press briefing on his budget proposal, Kasich said: “Let’s be clear about this: This is an effort that has in fact been tested to be constitutional, and had been found to be constitutionally sound. And let me also say it is fully funded, something that these other plans [of previous governors] never were. They were smoke and mirrors.”
However, his $1.2 billion increase in the next budget does not make for the $1.6 billion cut in his first budget.
And during the briefing, the Beacon Journal identified about $115 million that appeared to be double-counted in the total education budget in the first year, and about $120 million in the second year.
Asked after the briefing whether that double-count was included in Kasich’s statement that funding would rise $1.2 billion, Keen confirmed it was.
Projection not completed
On Wednesday, asked if it was possible to see a simulation showing how school districts will be funded once the formula is totally implemented, Mattei-Smith said in a phone conference with reporters: “We haven’t projected out to see what will happen when [the funding formula is] fully implemented.”
“It’s kind of a cruel illusion. A lot of districts were expecting something great,” said Bill Phillis, director of the Ohio Coalition of Equity and Adequacy in School Funding. Phillis led the landmark DeRolph lawsuit, resulting in four Ohio Supreme Court decisions that said the state’s school funding system was unconstitutional because it failed to determine the cost of an adequate education and then provide the funding, an over-reliance on property taxes created wide disparity in quality, school buildings were unsafe, and costly mandates were unfunded.
At the core of the DeRolph suit were extremely poor districts in Perry County in southeast Ohio. In Kasich’s budget proposal, none of the Perry County districts receive a funding increase.
“There’s a term for that kind of science. It’s a term that was used in the DeRolph litigation when we proved some of the state’s calculations wrong. We called it ... junk science,” Phillis said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.