“Let the privatization of Ohio’s education system resume!”

I fully expect House Education Committee Chair Gerald Stebelton to sound the above call for his minions to continue their full-scale assault when they meet this week.

You didn’t really think Ohio’s Republican Party was done putting the screws to public education, did you?  At 5:00 pm on September 21, in Room 313 (not-so-subtle hint), the committee will be discussing House Bill 136 which will “replace the Educational Choice and the Cleveland scholarship programs with the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings Scholarship Program and to establish the Special Education Scholarship Program.

In other words: Cancel the existing school voucher program that is limited to children in Ohio’s lowest performing schools (and already increased through Kasich’s partisan budget) and replace it with a plan that will subsidize up to $5,782.90 of a student’s private school tuition and that is (theoretically) available to any Ohio child whose family has an adjusted gross income of $101,982 or less.

Ideologically, there are people who think this is just.  There isn’t much articulation of their rationale, mostly a claim of “fairness” that they can select where their child goes to school.  Their claim has nothing to do with the performance of their child’s school, since the existing EdChoice program addresses that concern, and Governor Kasich’s recent expansion of that program resulted in over 12,000 of the private school tuition vouchers left unused and unwanted.  For example, School Choice Ohio is one statewide “non-profit” organization that believes “that all parents should have the opportunity to choose which school is best for their children, regardless of their level of income.”  Unstated, but implied, in this statement is their belief that the state should pay for privatized education.

And School Choice Ohio does not try to hide the fact that privatization of education is what this really amounts to.  As they also point out on their site:

“Private schools are largely funded and operated independently of the state government. Private schools charge tuition and can set their own admissions criteria.  Private schools can be based on their own religious, philosophical, or educational beliefs.”

If it passes, HB136 vouchers would be available to any currently-enrolled public school student for next school year, but has a phase-in schedule for students who are currently in a private school.  Therefore, expect to see an increase in public school enrollment during the spring months as families “work the system” to obtain the financing.

They can call it a voucher all they want, but know that it is quite simply the shifting of public money in order to fund private enterprise.

For a moment, though, let’s assume that we cannot change their philosophical belief that this is an acceptable practice by the state, and that they intend to proceed with this change.  And let’s look at the financial picture to uncover the “fairness” of this legislation and the ways in which it would impact the finely-tuned school funding model Ohio has in place.  And by “finely-tuned” I mean completely jacked-up.

First, remember that school funding basically works like this*:

  1. Every student who lives in a district is assigned a dollar value based on a variety of metrics and the total dollar amount of all of those students is combined into one large pool
  2. Charter schools and voucher amounts are deducted at the full state-funding amount
  3. Whatever is left is the school district’s state funding amount

*additional, miscellaneous funds impact the overall totals

Here is how Columbus, the largest school district in the state, looks in this scenario using the latest ODE data (FY12)

  1. $230,799,844 (63,827 students, $3,616 per student)
  2. -$103,579,972 (15,378 students, $5,200 per voucher, $7,023 average charter)
  3. $126,661,852 (48,449 students, $2,614 per student)

As always, these numbers are available through the Ohio Department of Education.

As you can see, the current voucher system pays the private school twice the amount of money per student than it does Columbus City where the student would ordinarily be enrolled.  But since Columbus has already been impacted by the current EdChoice model, we might not expect a significant change in the number of students requesting private school tuition.  Instead, let’s look at how HB136 would affect a district that has not been directly affected by the EdChoice program; let’s look at the Dublin City School district.

First, Dublin’s funding scenario:

  1. $13,535,621 (14,067 students, $962 per student)
  2. -$1,446,255 (157 students, $9,025 average charter)
  3. $12,089,366 (13,910 students, $869 per student)

Put aside the obvious inequity of district vs charter funding for now and refocus on the matter at hand, please.  As I briefly mention earlier, the amount of tuition subsidized by HB136 varies by income and is described in the LSC bill analysis:

To qualify for reduced-price lunch, a family of four must have an annual income less than or equal to $40,793.  As used in the chart below, that income standard for a reduced-price lunch shall be referred to as “the standard.”

…the base amount for the scholarship would be…$5,782.90

Students receive a percentage of the base amount, depending on the family’s federal adjusted gross income for the preceding tax year, as follows:

In Dublin, the median federal adjusted gross income was $51,079, giving us a convenient midpoint to calculate the income of the families in the school district.  Using the chart, a family with a median income of $51,079 would qualify for private tuition assistance of $4,626 per child, an amount equal to over FIVE TIMES the amount the Dublin City School district receives.  And while this fact alone makes me shake my head, wait until you see what happens as we continue to play out this scenario.

If a parent in Dublin finds a private school, enrolls their child, and receives the HB136 funding, the Dublin City School district suffers a net loss of $3,757.  Doesn’t sound too bad in isolation, does it? Well, keep going….

Assuming Dublin parents can find private schools to take their children, this could continue until every student has taken their private tuition money out of the Dublin pool and the entire district is privatized.  Except that would be impossible because the pool of money can’t sustain the model in the legislation.  Honestly, it’s just basic arithmetic at this point.

  • District funds remaining: $12,089,366
  • [Divided by] private tuition voucher: $4,626
  • [Equals] Number of vouchers available for funding: 2,613
  • Number of total students in Dublin City Schools: 13,910

So, after student number 2,613 has taken their tax money and run, I’m left with two questions for the “financial experts” down at the Statehouse:

  1. Who pays for number 2,614?
  2. Who funds the remaining 11,000+ students?

And did I mention that this very real scenario could occur in the Dublin City School district that has a rating of Excellent with Distinction (A+) by the Ohio Department of Education?  And because the subsidized tuition amount is always higher than a district’s actual per pupil funding, the model fails in every district in Ohio.  As in #EpicFail

Like much of what we have seen this year, this legislation is a work of pure genius.  And by genius, I mean the kind of small-minded idiocy found in the Ohio Republican Party in 2011.

And while it could be argued that SB5 hinges on ideological differences, HB136 is founded in numbers that simply do not add up.  Call and email your state representative today and, as you have been doing since February, educate them about the real-life facts, before they allow another uninformed bill to reach the Governor’s desk.

And please, while I know it will be tough, don’t call them a moron until AFTER you hang up.