Funding Ohio schools: Two problems, two plans, one pot of money

Ohio

Coming up with a funding formula that lawmakers say is fair has taken a year and a half.

The formula that was being used was flawed, according to Howard Fleeter, an economist and school funding formula expert that has been studying the way Ohio has been funding its schools for decades.

“Everyone I think can agree that the current formula we have is flawed in fundamental ways,” said Fleeter.

He says it’s time for a new one, and apparently, he isn’t alone in that thinking.

“It’s going to take the governor, it’s going to take the House and it’s going to take the Senate to all agree on something that moves this forward; and what I’m hearing from every one of those camps is that they think that this is a high priority and that the time to do something about it is now,” said Fleeter.

There are two plans on the table at the moment.

The first is the governor’s plan, which freezes the current funding formula in place and adds more funding on top.

The funding would be mandated for the use of wrap-around services for economically challenged students.

Every school district would get money under the governor’s plan, and those with more students in need would get more money than those that do not.

This plan is designed to address the achievement gap in Ohio students.

A decade worth of test scores shows kids from wealthy districts are just doing better than kids that are not as fortunate.

“There tends to be a 25 to 30 percent achievement gap on every test in every grade that we administer and that’s a big loss of human capital and human potential and human resources for this state,” said Fleeter.

On top of that, it is a commonly accepted premise that under or uneducated students can easily become a drain on the state as they leave the secondary education system, as they are at higher risk for committing crimes, abusing drugs or requiring safety net programs funding be the taxpayer dollars.

Where the state did not spend the money needed to provide that individual with a quality education, it will spend the money on services and incarceration, which can be quite a bit more in the long run.

DeWine’s plan calls for additional education spending of $250 million in the first year of the biennium and $300 million in the second.

With the DeWine administration focusing on closing that achievement gap and preparing students for jobs within the state, a pair of lawmakers are aiming at a different problem.

State Representatives Cupp and Patterson have put forward their plan, which completely reforms the funding formula from the ground up.

It also looks to cost the state twice as much as DeWine was looking to spend on his education funding increase.

However, with their formula in place, nearly 85 percent of schools will be funded through the formula, something that is not happening now.

Still, with the success of getting so many schools on the formula and finally fixing what has been a broken system for nearly a decade, there are school districts that will not receive an increase in funding this year if the plan moves forward.

About 30 of the 70 school districts affected are wealthy districts, but there are others on the list that direly need more funding to help some of the most disadvantaged kids.

Included on that list of districts are some that have a great need for more resources, according to Fleeter.

“Places like Youngstown, Lima, Cleveland, Dayton, Loraine, those are places where I think most people would objectively say, ‘These are places that need more resources,’” said Fleeter

The Cupp-Patterson plan does add money for economically challenged students, but it does not put restrictions on how that money can be used to help them Rather, it trusts the school districts to spend it wisely or incur the wrath of their communities.

It also calls for the study of how much it truly costs to educate an economically challenged student.

“We have never ever studied that particular issue and it’s well past time for us to get to that and so that is something which really needed to be done yesterday,” said Fleeter.

The Cupp-Patterson plan establishes how much is costs to educate a child under normal economic circumstances.

With that said, Fleeter points out, educating one or two economically challenged students in a single class is very different for an educator who has to educated 15 to 20 of them in a single class.

Until that cost can be quantified, the funding model “fix” is good first step, according to Fleeter.

Fixing the funding model is projected to take four years.

Fixing the achievement gap could take a decade if not longer, as a child’s education takes at least that long.

Still, Fleeter says we should start to see indications in certain test scores as they progress through third and seventh grade.

Lawmakers will have to figure out how they are going to pay for an education budget over the next three months.

With many other issues all vying for the same tax dollars, and questions over exactly how much money the state has to spend this year due a discrepancy in projections from state agencies, it will be at least a month if not more before we have a better idea of where lawmaker’s heads are at on this issue.

Either way, Fleeter says, “When you hear people say education is an investment, that’s not rhetoric. That’s really, literally, true.”

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