Two Washington, D.C., public policy groups say Ohio’s reductions in aid to public schools and the inequality among school districts have hampered efforts to boost graduation rates and cut in half the achievement gaps among low-income and minority students despite $204 million in additional federal funding.
Elaine Weiss, national coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, said Ohio’s acceptance of federal Race to the Top funding has produced less-than-expected gains in student achievement.
“What we found was not very promising,” Weiss said, dedicating a large portion of her group’s study to Ohio’s use of the funds.
Hers was one of two groups that weighed in on U.S. and Ohio education funding during separate telephone news conferences Thursday.
Another said that providing an adequate and equal education in poor school districts has been difficult as property values continue to fall, crippling local taxpayers’ ability to compensate for state cuts.
“When your cutting your basic funding at the state level so deeply, it makes it so hard to make gains in those areas, let alone others,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Leachman’s group found that Ohio is among 34 states to reduce per-pupil funding since 2008. At a 4 percent reduction, Ohio had the least drastic cuts of those listed, according to the center’s research.
The research, however, includes federal stimulus dollars that propped up many schools during the recession. And researchers said that because Ohio lawmakers have shifted state dollars from one fund to another over the years, the center compared only foundation funding, or basic state aid. Money for private school vouchers, which grew from $42 million to nearly $126 million in those five years, was excluded.
When the $600 million in stimulus funding is removed from the inflation-adjusted equation and the state’s entire contribution to K-12 education is used, Ohio lawmakers actually have allocated $165.6 million less in state aid this year than was set aside in 2008, according to a Beacon Journal analysis. Additional funding in the next two-year budget finally will surpass inflation-adjusted 2008 levels after six years of reduced aid.
Regardless, many schools have operated on less over the past five years.
Less funding equates to larger class sizes, less after-school and summer programming, and a stalled effort to implement national testing and teacher evaluations, Leachman said.
To date, 148 charter schools and 292 public school districts have received $204 million to implement Common Core State Standards, develop new teacher evaluations mandated by the state and increase graduation rates.
When the schools first applied for Race to the Top grants, many had trouble securing teacher-union agreements that would link teacher evaluations to student performance. Today, some of the schools have backed out after realizing that $100,000 isn’t worth the added expenses and loss of instructional time as teachers are pulled from classrooms to be trained.
“We just didn’t feel that it was worthwhile for the district to make that investment. Other districts receiving considerably more money — it made sense for them to stay in,” said Mike Lenzo, assistant superintendent at Twinsburg schools, which would have received $179,641 or approximately $44,910 per year over a four-year period.
Twinsburg is among 34 public schools to opt out of the program; 64 charter schools have also opted out, even after the state awarded Race to the Top funding. Their shares have been redistributed to the remaining, participating schools.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.