On Thursday, Gov. John Kasich’s education experts stood in front of images on a screen and said they had arrived at a school funding formula that ends the inequity among Ohio’s richest and poorest districts.
The message was cautiously received by school superintendents who favor equal education opportunities for all — the underlying theme behind Kasich’s Achievement Everywhere Education Plan.
But critics began to surface on Friday, raising questions about Kasich’s choice of property-rich school districts as a model for funding and whether the governor’s numbers reflect the cost of an adequate education.
Kasich’s formula results in $5,000 per pupil as the “core opportunity aid.” Special education, gifted programs and other financial resources would come on top of the $5,000.
That number falls short of basic funding that was defined several times in recent years.
As recently as the 2009-10 school year, the state used $5,732 as the basic funding amount.
And after the Ohio Supreme Court in 1997 ruled the funding system unconstitutional in the landmark DeRolph case, the legislature hired a national expert, John Augenblick, to make a recommendation for adequate funding. After studying districts that were academically successful, he calculated that proper funding per pupil for a basic education should be $4,269 in the 1998-99 school year. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $5,883 today, or 17.6 percent more than the core aid Kasich proposed on Thursday.
The court was critical of the legislature at the time for “residual budgeting,” by giving schools the money that was left over in the budget process and never asking whether it was enough to provide an adequate education.
There were others who made estimates of how much should be spent in 1995 and 2002, and each was higher that Augenblick’s .
Redistribution of wealth
On Friday, the day after the governor’s rollout, Kasich’s education policy expert Barbara Mattei-Smith said funding adequacy was not the goal in this plan — it was simply redistribution of dollars for the sake of fairness.
“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,” Mattei-Smith said, adding that high-performing districts exist in property-rich and property-poor communities.
“It was really based on that distribution of wealth across the state,” Mattei-Smith said.
William Phillis, the executive director of the coalition of schools that sponsored the DeRolph case, said that the failure to determine the cost of an adequate education, let alone what Kasich calls a “high-quality” education, is simply funding kindergarten through 12th-grade education with what’s left over.
“So we’re going to fund kids on the basis of the property wealth of the state of Ohio rather than on the needs of kids? I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Phillis said.
There were mixed signals last week about how much money would flow to the bottom line of K-12 education.
In Kasich’s first budget proposal in 2011, public education support was reduced by $1.6 billion over two years. Last week, the governor’s team previewed a two-year budget that would increase funding over two years by $1.2 billion — 5.9 percent in the first year and 3.2 percent in the second year.
“I want you to know that this program is fully funded,” Kasich told educators on Thursday.
But on Friday, Mattei-Smith stressed that the entire $1.2 billion increase in expenditures is for the Achievement Everywhere plan and says nothing about “what we do in the whole education budget.”
“It’s only the funds for this plan. Assessments and things like that are not included in this.”
Steve Dyer, a former Democratic state representative from Green who devised former Gov. Ted Strickland’s funding formula, also cautioned that the first year of Kasich’s plan appears to include one-time money known as a guarantee, which protects districts from funding cuts in the first year, but then begins to phase out in the second year.
He said that of the $1.2 billion increase, it appears that $880 million is the guarantee money that will then disappear.
On Thursday, the governor’s office showed charts reflecting a 76 percent increase in state aid per pupil from 1999 to 2011 — the year before Kasich cut funding. The funding was juxtaposed against National Assessment of Education Progress reading scores showing that Ohio had made little improvement in that same period.
The governor’s office said reform was necessary, because increased spending wasn’t reflected in the test scores.
“Per pupil spending has doubled,” the governor’s spokesman, Rob Nichols, said days before the Thursday preview. “But when you look at what kids are doing on the proficiency tests, it’s really flat-lined.”
The governor’s presentation Thursday didn’t show Ohio’s achievement in math, which has improved significantly across the board, and especially for black students. Richard Rothstein, a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute, described Ohio’s math gains in a March 2011 Beacon Journal story as “truly extraordinary.”
Meanwhile, Ohio’s most recent fourth-grade reading scores are 14th in the nation.
The numbers behind the Kasich plan will be unveiled today, allowing the first glimpse of how much is likely to go to traditional public schools, how much local property taxes will be expected to generate, and whether school choice — the funding of privately run schools — will continue its rapid acceleration.
The state faces two difficult challenges: Property taxes provide nearly half of the funding necessary for education. However, as the deep recession has depressed property values, tax collections have weakened, forcing the state to ante up more money to maintain spending.
And as the state aggressively expanded school choice in recent years, many children who were privately educated are now availing themselves of publicly funded educations.
This year, about $126 million is expected to flow directly to private education through various voucher programs, and another $824 million will go to privately run charters. Fifteen years ago, none of those alternatives existed. Now, $950 million of a $7 billion budget goes to privately run education.
A Beacon Journal analysis of the trend shows that since the end of the DeRolph school funding case in 2002, state aid per pupil in traditional school districts has declined $335, while funding for charters grew $276 per pupil and for private schools $349 per student, all adjusted for inflation.
In Kasich’s first biennium budget, overall state funding decreased 4.4 percent, while charter and private school funding increased 12.4 and 21.6 percent, respectively. Public school funding dropped 7.8 percent.
Mattei-Smith disputed the Beacon Journal’s calculation in an interview.
She said, for example, that Akron Public Schools received nearly $150 million in state aid to educate 22,425 students, and that reflected an increase over the years.
“Well, that’s incorrect,” said Jack Pierson, Akron Public Schools treasurer.
He said the district expects to see $148 million on its financial statement, but that’s before all the deductions. More than $25 million will go with 3,203 students to charter schools and nearly $3.3 million follows 783 voucher students.
“That $149 million is more like $116 million” after the state makes all of its deductions, Pierson said.
The Beacon Journal’s analysis of spending per pupil reflected those adjustments.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.