Much of the media coverage around John Kasich’s latest budget proposal and “new” school funding model has focused on the mysterious calculations that are supposedly determining how some school districts will receive more state funding and some schools will receive less.  While this debate is certainly interesting, it ignores the larger, and more important conversation that should be occurring.

Kasich’s latest proposal makes some grand and fatally-flawed assumptions about the amount of state funding that should be allocated to the Department of Education as a whole.  Furthermore, Kasich’s bold statement that local districts that “can help themselves…need…to step up and help” completely bastardizes the notion of “local control” that he is fond of promoting.

john-kasichjpg-b139198c2c7c6ad3First of all, there is truly nothing wrong with the idea that some of Ohio’s wealthier school districts should receive an increase in state funding.  When some districts are receiving thousands in per pupil funding and others are receiving less than $400 per student while expecting to achieve the same goal, there’s something wrong (just ask the Ohio Supreme Court).  The problem with Kasich’s latest budget is that he assumes that state education funding is a zero-sum game.

Kasich is obviously ignorant of the myriad of laws that he has signed that place an ever-increasing funding burden on schools, districts, and the Ohio Department of Education.  Most, if not all, of these laws come with an ever-increasing cost of implementation that perpetual in nature.  As such, all entities should be receiving an across the board increase in funding from the state.

Instead, though Kasich’s total budget proposal for FY2017 exceeds $70 billion — a $10 billion increase over former Governor Ted Strickland’s FY2011 budget — total funding for the Department of Education is actually $13 million less.  While the GOP-heavy Ohio General Assembly likes to tout increases in education funding in the past two years, those increases come after funding was drastically cut after Kasich first took office.  Only now, six years later, and only after increasing the total state budget by over 15% is funding education funding approaching pre-Kasich levels.

In the interim, schools and the Department of Education have been forced to implement new laws and practices that drain both financial and human resources.  Schools are having to implement the new time-intensive evaluation system, a series of new tests connected to the Third Grade Reading Guarantee (which also requires districts to spend time managing and reporting), and new state curricula connected to new state tests that are requiring a massive investment by schools to upgrade and maintain computer hardware and infrastructure.  In addition to these not-small initiatives, schools are forced to commit incalculable funds to train teachers and administrators on all of the new laws and requirements — many of which are changing annually.

In addition to the burden on schools, the Ohio Department of Education itself is having to create new policies and procedures and contract to develop new software programs (and hire and train people to understand them and then set up hundreds of sessions to train school personnel across the state) simply to implement the new laws (which, again, seem to be changing every other month).

All of this change is very, very expensive, and yet Kasich is apparently oblivious to the basic economics of the entire situation.

Governor Kasich’s veiled attempt at putting more control in the hands of local school districts is even more insulting.  While he wishes for Ohioans to believe that by changing the funding formula he is putting the onus for budgetary decisions in the hands of local school boards, he again fails to consider that those at the local level do not have complete autonomy in deciding what to fund and where to make cuts.

Local communities and school boards would only have complete budgetary discretion if they truly had the ability to put every expenditure on the table.  In practice, districts do not have the ability to opt-out of the numerous state mandates that the Kasich Administration has enacted and that we have listed above (only partially).

It’s one thing for Kasich to tell school districts that they need to “step up” and fund their local schools, but it’s an entirely different story when Kasich is actually telling them that they need to “step up” and pay for the things that Kasich & Company deem to be most important.  The truth is that school districts might wish to cut the onerous state testing and hire more teachers, more specialists, more principals, improve buildings, etc., but the Kasich Education Reform Package already sets a minimum cost that schools must spend.

In reality, Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly have already set a large number of fixed costs that districts are forced to set aside before they can ever begin discussions around any optional, variable costs that local districts actually have real control over.

Kasich’s latest budget proposal, especially as it relates to education funding, is regressive, narrow-minded, ignorant, and just plain insulting to Ohio’s citizenry.