Jim Betts let down his guard, or at least departed from the talking points. He is an education policy expert who has been helping state Reps. Robert Cupp and John Patterson with the design of a new school-funding formula. Here’s what he told Jim Siegel of the Columbus Dispatch last week:
“Just because a district is poor does not necessarily mean that it needs more money, because that [raises] the question: How much is enough? Is another $2,000 [per pupil] going to help East Cleveland? Probably not.”
Such thinking is familiar at the Statehouse. Many look at the higher per-pupil spending and the lower proficiency scores in large urban districts and ask: What more can be done? Cupp himself offered a version when, according to the Dispatch, he answered a question about urban schools with a question: “Are they failing because they aren’t getting enough resources?”
The Cupp-Patterson formula represents a vast improvement, as many have concluded. It establishes the components and costs of a high-quality education. It repairs transportation funding and ends the problematic practice of running funding for charter schools through local districts. The overall result is greater simplicity, clarity and transparency.
Cupp and Patterson also propose increased funding for economically disadvantaged students. Or so it says on paper. What troubles is how the money actually flows.
For instance, East Cleveland is one of the 14 poorest districts in the state. Under Cupp-Patterson, it would receive no increase in funding the next two years. Another seven in that group, including Youngstown and Dayton, would see the same result. So would Cleveland and Toledo, not a dollar more.
Howard Fleeter of the Ohio Education Policy Institute noted that the remaining four major urban districts, Akron, Canton, Columbus and Cincinnati, receive per-pupil increases far below the average increase across the state.
Do the districts already get enough? Part of the answer surfaced in the New York Times on Saturday in a story about the I Promise School in Akron, operated by the city schools with supplemental funding from the LeBron James Family Foundation. That foundation money goes to wraparound services and support, for students and parents. If it is too soon for definitive conclusions, early tests scores show marked improvement.
A 2016 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research examined states that have changed their funding formulas since 1990, many facing court orders to do so. Those states driving additional resources to their poorest districts saw more academic improvement than those that did not.
Another study looked at the outcomes of roughly 15,000 people, born between 1955 and 1985. It found that for those who were poor, a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending resulted in higher wages, fewer in poverty and six months of additional schooling. Add to the mix the federal Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. Research shows that it helps to ease the toxic effects of poverty, children performing better in school
A few years ago, Howard Fleeter highlighted the “Expenditure per Pupil Equivalent,” an apples-to-apples comparison, generated by the state, of actual funding in the classroom. This measure reveals significantly more resources going to students in the wealthiest districts than to those who are most disadvantaged.
So what would East Cleveland do with an extra $2,000?
On Thursday, Eric Rensick, the vice president of the Canton city school board, put it straight during a legislative hearing. He talked about paying for “professional expertise to translate for non-English speakers, to do intense academic intervention, to look after health and medical concerns, to transport homeless students so they don’t miss school and to provide mental health and wraparound services at a level commensurate with the need.”
Rensick pointed out that “100 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged.” Yet the Canton city schools would see a funding increase of less than 1 percent. He said he was “literally speechless” when he learned that by comparison, New Albany, a wealthy suburb of Columbus, would receive a 152 percent increase, or $845 per pupil.
Yes, that’s on top of a low base of state funding. Yet the pressing problem for Ohio is closing the achievement gap, bringing up the proficiency of disadvantaged students. Which raises the question: What would New Albany do with that $845?
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.