Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tale of Two Districts: Why Kasich's Plan Fails

Ohio's school funding system has been ruled unconstitutional for fifteen years, and yet remains the same inadequate system.  The disparity between rich and poor districts prompted a documentary with Bill Moyers, garnering national attention.  Governor Kasich recently announced his new formula which was to fix the system.  "The rich won't get as much, and the poor will get more," he told an audience of school superintendents earlier this month.  Now that the preliminary budgets have been revealed, educators across the state are disappointed to find more of the same.  The rich get richer and the poor get nothing while the only winners in the deal are the charter schools who get a hefty increase.

New Albany Local Schools is an affluent district on the north east side of Columbus.  The average income for families in New Albary is $143,877.  When you drive into town, you will be impressed with the imposing colonial style brick buildings that make up the school campus.. They recently completed a new Elementary Phys Ed Building with rock climbing walls among the facility's offerings.  A natatorium and extensive library are on campus.  Schools are equipped with functional, modern technology.  The average teacher's salary is $64,553.  With a per pupil tax evaluation of $9717.71, one mill in New Albany raises $206.30 per pupil, and the district spends $12,250 per pupil to provide an excellent education with many choices for students, like programming, robotics, orchestra, and several world languages.  Percentage of students living in poverty is 6.97%.

Head north from New Albany, and you will reach a rural district called East Knox.  Average income, $45,462.  At East Knox, students don't get the opportunity to have art, music, or physical education class until they are in high school due to budget cuts.  The middle school principal serves as the transportation director, as well as her principal's duties, and the one elementary principal is also the communications director for the district and serves as the building's IT support.  Average teacher's salary is $47,498 with wages frozen for so many years nobody remembers a time they received a different salary.  In fact, with insurance costs and STRS contributions going up, their paychecks have steadily shrunk over the years.  One mill in East Knox raises $169.36 per pupil, but taxpayers have voted 'no' on every levy proposal and so even more cuts are imminent.  Students have the choice of required subjects with very few electives.  Per pupil expenditure at East Knox is $8674.  Percentage of students living in poverty is 38.86%.

I chose these two schools not because New Albany is the most elite school with the highest per pupil expenditure, nor is East Knox the school with  lowest income and lowest per pupil expenditure.  These schools are notable simply because they are typical.  This pattern is echoed across Ohio hundreds of times, and it was this type of inequity that we were hoping would be resolved by the new funding formula.

The reality is, instead of helping narrow the opportunity gap between the rich and poor, our governor's new formula gives New Albany an increase of 181.04% and provides the East Knoxes of the state with a flat 0.  In fact 2/3 of the districts in the state are flat funded, with many put on notice that the money they receive from the state will be even lower after the next two years while they are "weaned" from excessive state support.  Many districts struggle to provide a bare-bones state mandated curriculum to larger and larger class sizes while reeling under the weight of the unbelievable number of unfunded mandates that have rolled out under this governor.

I urge you to let your voice be heard before it's too late.  Support your public school while you still have one!

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