HB 59 is Ohio's budget bill. I will be providing testimony during the public hearings on March 14. Here is the text of my testimony:
To the Honorable Representatives of the Ohio General Assembly:
I have been involved in public education for over 34 years in one capacity or another, and I believe that public education is absolutely vital for economic prosperity. With that in mind, I would like to make two points involving the governor’s proposed school funding plan:
1) The proposal exacerbates the inequities in the current system that have been ruled inappropriate for over 15 years and
2) The legislature has placed many demands on public schools that cannot be accomplished without the educational service center system as it currently exists.
First, the proposed funding plan exacerbates the inequities in the current system. Suburban and urban districts have the potential to raise much more local revenue than small rural districts because of the existence within their borders of business and industry that support schools through property taxes, as well as through local income taxes collected within those municipalities. I would like to point out to you that rural districts derive NONE of the financial benefit of those businesses and industries, and yet our citizens work, pay taxes, and spend money in those same places. The businesses and industries within suburban and urban areas thrive and pay taxes BECAUSE of money invested there by people living in rural areas. It is the responsibility of state legislature to equalize this investment, and so, of necessity, more state money should be allocated to property-poor rural districts.
Small rural districts do not have the ability to raise the revenue locally. We have no business and industry to tax. Our people are mostly middle class with property values much lower than those in suburban and urban areas. The median income of our residents is much lower than those in suburban schools. The governor talks of “weaning” our rural schools away from state support, but the effect of this drastic reduction in revenue once the guarantees are gone is that local schools in rural areas will collapse. Already, we have class sizes of over 30. Already, some of our districts have eliminated art, music, and physical education in elementary and middle schools. Already, our teachers have taken pay freezes. Already, we have cut the number of administrators and teachers. Already, our schools have stopped offering programs and field trips and enrichment activities. What more can we cut? In the meantime, the average suburban districts, many of whom receive additional state dollars in this plan, already are offering Advanced Placement courses, already have sculpture, orchestra, computer programming, and other electives. Affluent suburban districts already have the means to provide students with adequate, updated technology. Over half of the districts receiving additional funds are already healthy schools providing their students with supports and opportunities that the rural districts are doing without. Do not our rural students deserve an equal chance at a quality education?
I don’t believe you understand the effect this funding plan will have on schools. Rural schools ARE the communities they represent. The school is frequently the largest employer in the area. Our schools are the hub of community life. If rural schools are forced to close or consolidate, entire communities will be devastated. Not only that, but with school closings in the rural areas, we would be placing our primary aged children on school buses for 2-3 hours per day, or more, to take them to the next district. This is not acceptable.
I have taken the time to prepare a spreadsheet (attached) of all 603 districts in Ohio showing median income, percent poverty, per pupil expenditure, and the percent of increase the first year of the Kasich funding for each district. Please note that of the top 10% affluent districts in the state based on median income, the very richest districts where there is plenty of potential to raise local funds, 44% receive additional state dollars in this plan. Of the entire bottom 90%, only 34% receive additional funds. This plan increases the inequities in state funding and seriously compromises the ability of local districts to provide even a basic education to our children. This plan takes money away from financially unhealthy, struggling districts and gives more to healthy, financially solvent districts, which amounts to fiscal malpractice.
Another way to analyze the data is to look at the per pupil expenditure. The average child care center in Ohio charges $250 per week, multiplied by 36 weeks of school, and we find that over half of the districts in the state are trying to educate children for no more than one would pay a babysitter to watch them. Of those districts, over 66% receive no additional funding from the state, and will lose even more when the guarantees are phased out. Orange School District in Cuyahoga County currently spends over $21,000 per student, and they receive additional state funds under this plan, while the schools in my county educate children for less than half of that and get no help.
Next point, the legislature has placed many demands on public schools that cannot be accomplished without the educational service center system as it currently exists. There have been many, many unfunded mandates and changes brought about by laws that the state legislature has passed. Changes in the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System and Ohio Principal Evaluation System necessitate much training and much more time to implement, which will require more expenditure for administrative staff. The Resident Educator program, Student Learning Objectives, the transition to the common core state standards and the instructional changes necessary to implement them, the additional interventions and assessments necessary for the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, the new assessment systems, the Instructional Improvement System, Formative Instructional Practices, the new meetings and supports necessary under the ESEA waiver, interpreting and using value added data, all require a great deal of training and time. The Ohio Department of Education cannot possibly provide the training and support necessary to roll out these initiatives and support district implementation. With the minimal investment to Educational Service Centers in Ohio, the department of education has a cadre of capable, trained staff to do this work so that school districts can comply and actually do the work well. The state is receiving an excellent return on their investment when they maintain support for ESCs.
Another valuable service of educational service centers is direct service to students. When the money flows directly to ESCs, then we can provide direct services to preschools and low incidence populations more cost effectively. The governor was right two years ago when he emphasized that shared services would save districts money. The ESCs provide these shared services, but will be severely compromised in our ability to do so if the money flows directly to the schools.
In summary, I urge you to consider the long term effects of this proposed budget on the children of Ohio. Fund our rural schools adequately and protect the educational service centers. Thank you.
Respectfully submitted,Bonny Buffington