“Education, K-12 and post-secondary, of course it’s critical to our economic future. But I want to tell you, more choice, more accountability, more dollars in the classroom instead of bureaucracy will improve our schools, and we are going to have a significant reform agenda. . .”—Governor John Kasich, State of State address
Does Kasich’s budget do that?
Yesterday, knowing that the media would be focused on the latest developments on SB 5, the Kasich Administration did a massive budgetary document dump finally releasing both the statutory language of the entire budget and more accurate school district funding impact projections yesterday.
Except it’s a patchwork of projections that require you to examine two separate sheets on the business property tax reimbursement raid and then two other separate sheets on the utility tax reimbursement raid. You then have to take those numbers and compare them to the foundation aid projects they made last week.
For example, last week the Kasich Administration reported that my school district in Butler County, Lakota, would gain $1,422,926 over the biennium in foundation aid compared to what they get now. However, yesterday, the Kasich Administration projects the district will lose $5,717,596 over the biennium in business personal property tax reimbursements compared to what they get now, leading to a net loss of $4,294,670 in funding. In a district that is rated Excellent with Distinction. Clearly, Kasich’s funding formula doesn’t award districts funding based on performance. Lakota has seen enormous population growth which has not been matched with state aid. With property values plummeting thanks to the economy, Lakota has been battling with a huge deficit that has forced the school to cut many of its quality educational and sports programs. Kasich’s budget makes the situation even worse.
Let’s re-examine the Kelley Bonar-Williams situation (or as Gov. Kasich calls her “that lady in Akron.”) Akron City Schools are rated as Continuous Improvement. Copley-Fairlawn, where Bonar-Williams fraudulently enrolled her kids to avoid paying tuition, is rated Excellent with Distinction. Yet Kasich’s budget, according to the Plain Dealer, would cut Akron only 3% once the property tax and utility tax raids are factored in. Copley-Fairlawn faces a 45% cut in state funding. Granted, Akron is losing twice as much money, but it’s also a much bigger school district.
For all of Kasich’s bravado publicly, the reason Kasich’s education funding has been so hard to work out is that it’s trying to please everyone. Despite Kasich’s public protestations that school districts who relied on the stimulus funding for operational expenses should have expected large cuts, Kasich’s budget documents admits that he sought to protect them the most:
However, Kasich’s bump in foundational aid that he says was to help district’s deal with the loss of federal stimulus funds was only around 1/4th the amount of the federal stimulus money the districts are losing. On top of that, a significant portion of Kasich’s “bump” in foundation funding is diverted to quadrupling the money going to for-profit charter schools and school vouchers.
Then when Kasich decided to “accelerate,” or more accurately, raid the school district’s business tangible property tax, he, again, sought to minimize the political damage to his Republicans in the legislature by trying to tweak the formula to minimize the impact on those districts that relied on these reimbursements the most. Had he not, Kasich’s budget would have cut Lakota’s funding even further than the over $4 million loss they’re already facing.
In the end, it’s is more accurate to say that Kasich’s budget is negative-performance based model… as it appears that the school systems that come out the best in his budget are the ones the Ohio Department of Education considers to be the worse performers. Most of the charter schools in Franklin County performing either no better or worse than the Columbus City School District. And yet, Kasich’s budget rewards a system that by any objective measure is doing worse than most public schools.
Recently, the Dispatch’s editorial board attempted to defend Kasich’s preference for charter schools saying:
It is true that Ohio’s charter schools still are proving themselves. But there is an important difference between a substandard charter school and a substandard conventional public school: When a charter school fails, it closes. When district public school fails, it remains open and students continue to suffer.
Except that’s not the whole story. There’s a major loophole in Ohio’s charter school laws. Yes, underperforming charter schools can be forced to close, but nothing prevents the same owner from reopening a charter school at the same location, using the same staff and equipment, just under a new name. Worse yet, by simply changing the name, the “new” charter school is able to operate years before it is forced to change its name again if the same system continues to produce the same failing result. The closing of a failing charter school is really a toothless remedy. This isn’t just a hypothetical as this Toledo Blade story shows.
Kasich’s budget punishes districts that are performing well. While I admire his desire to not starve struggling districts of even more resources, I cannot ignore that his budget formula seems to pull all districts away from excellence. Call it the Audacity of Mediocrity. But don’t call it reform.