A new study was unveiled this week based on research on education funding in Ohio that shows tax dollars from local levies are flowing to charters schools, most of which under perform local public schools, as state aid for public schools has shrunk dramatically under the Administration of Gov. John Kasich, who was elected to a final four-year term in November.
Using data from public sources, principally the Ohio Department of Education, The Ohio Charter School Accountability Project is a joint venture of the Ohio Education Association and Innovation Ohio [IO], a nonpartisan progressive think tank headquartered in Columbus. The research reveals how an underfunded state mandate can force school districts to use local tax revenues to subsidize the cost of sending students to charter schools.
Education policy experts and school superintendents told reporters Tuesday at IO’s office in downtown Columbus that, increasingly, more money follows the student to the charter school than the state would have sent to the local school district for the same student. “When that happens, local tax revenue, in many cases, ends up subsidizing these larger state payments to charter schools,” Innovation Ohio Policy Fellow Stephen Dyer said.
Dyer, a former state House Member, reported that instead of money raised through school levies going to the local public schools, some of it is being used to subsidize the cost of paying for students to attend charter schools, many of which are performing poorly. By visiting Knowyourcharter.com, a web page constructed to allow anyone to easily find and compare charter schools to public schools, understanding the erosion of local control across the state becomes clear, as do which school districts are forced to pay the most.
Ohio Education Association President Becky Higgins said the study and the “Know Your Charter” website are important to better understanding how charter schools in Ohio are operating and being funded. “In this case, we are shedding light on part of the state mandate for funding charter schools that has received too little attention, namely, the unfair burden it places on local communities,” she said, adding, it’s time to re-examine state law, especially in light of so many poor performing Buckeye charter schools.
The average school district last year received $4,149 per pupil, according to the report, which is $1,596 less than the $5,745 base amount paid to charter schools. IO’s Dyer concludes this means that local school districts have to make up that $1,596 state funding shortfall by using local revenue or reduce educational opportunities for children.
Greg Ring, Superintendent of the Lorain County Educational Service Center, in Columbus for the media event, said, “When the taxpayers vote for a local levy they expect the dollars generated to stay with their local traditional public school.” In Lorain County, Ring said six of the county’s 14 districts actually pay more in local dollars to charters than is deducted from the district’s state foundation on a per pupil funding basis. In one of those districts, he said, three times more local dollars leave the district when compared to its state deductions to charters.
One solution, according to Dyer, is to have the state fund charter schools directly instead of the current system that siphons off funding to public schools. Asked if efforts have been made to reach out to legislative leaders in the Senate and the House, Dyer said efforts have been made but he didn’t elaborate. Given the very strong support charters have received from Gov. Kasich and the legislature, which is dominated by Republicans and increased their majority caucus margin in the House in November, it’s unlikely that any significant divergence from the path Ohio’s executive and legislative leaders have pursued for the last four years will occur in the short term.
The Ohio Education Association represents more than 121,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals in Ohio’s public schools, colleges and universities.