A last-minute change this week in the Ohio legislature’s school-funding formula — more money for disadvantaged students — sounded good, but turned out to be a shift in funds that is likely to take money from traditional public schools and benefit charter schools.
The change came as members of the House and Senate met behind closed doors to resolve differences in their versions of the two-year state budget. They added $52 million for disadvantaged children — but they did it while cutting overall funding for education by about $25 million.
To accomplish the sleight of hand, they cut funding in other areas, among them an early-education program designed to help kids pass a new third-grade reading requirement.
The changes moved money from districts across the state to mostly urban districts.
But there was one other maneuver at play: They applied a cap to how much new money that public school districts could receive — but did not cap increases for charter schools, many of which are run by for-profit companies.
“We don’t even get the full amount because of the cap,” said Barbara Shaner, associate executive director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials.
Akron, for example, will receive an increase of about $26 million over the next two years, but would have received about $15 million more if it weren’t for the cap.
Because state aid for charter schools first shows up in a public school district’s total funding before being subtracted and transferred, “The district is subsidizing the [dollar] amount to make sure the charter school gets the full amount for the student,” Shaner said.
Poverty rates are highest in Ohio’s urban eight schools: Akron, Canton, Dayton, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and Youngstown. Half of Ohio’s charter-school students also come from these school districts.
While increasing funding for economically disadvantaged students is admirable, Shaner said charter schools are more likely to see that money because they are not capped.
In all, the state will save about $600 million in the eight urban school districts alone by capping percentage increases rather than providing the money called for by the school-funding formula. Akron will receive increases of 6.5 percent in the first year and 10.5 percent in the second — the maximum increases allowed.
Statewide, the cap will cut full funding to public school districts by $1.3 billion.
Colleen Grady, education adviser for House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, said charter schools were not capped because enrollment levels are unpredictable. She also added that public schools are guaranteed the same level of funding even if their enrollment declines, whereas charter-school funding is distributed on a “more per-pupil basis.”
She agreed that areas with higher poverty concentrations should see the highest increases under the revised formula, but would not speculate on how transfers to charter schools could affect public schools, which would operate on a portion of the formula funding.
Meanwhile, Akron Public Schools Treasurer Jack Pierson looks at the problems tied to the increase in aid for disadvantaged pupils: The state dictates how that money can be spent.
“That means that we would need to increase our expenditures,” he said, for whatever the state allows, although the district may have other needs.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.