State funding results in losses for CH-UH
I am trying to understand how schools in Ohio are funded, and it seems about as easy as teaching advanced calculus to a toddler who doesn’t speak English. Public school districts in Ohio are funded by state and local dollars, with federal monies for some programs that support students with disabilities. But the bulk of school funding comes from local property taxes.
In 2018–19 the state of Ohio arrived at $6,020 per student as the base amount to educate a child. The state adjusts this amount based on several considerations. For example, if property wealth is high, the state believes the local community should subsidize the state funds. In our school district, the amount we received from the state was about $2,300 per student, based on our high property wealth.
There is additional state money allocated for students enrolled in career technical education and for students with disabilities. More funds are given to districts where there is a high concentration of poverty. In CH-UH, the average state funding is around $3,200 per student. This figure also includes students going to charter schools and those using various vouchers.
Here is where things get interesting. Each charter student accounts for $6,020 out of our budget. Each EdChoice voucher for students in grades K–8 costs CH-UH $4,650; for students in grades 9–12, it is $6,000. Vouchers for students with disabilities and autism cost our district between $7,000 and $27,000 per student.
In 2018–19 our district’s state funding was based on 6,578 students. Of those, 77.7% attended our schools. The 22.3% who did not attend our schools accounted for about 34.6% of the state funding, resulting in a net loss of $4.4 million, which went from our public school district to private and parochial schools—and this was for just one year!
If every one of those students had attended the CH-UH public schools, then the method the state uses might make some sense. The problem is that the vast majority of these were never CH-UH students. Our enrollment has been stable to growing in the last two years, while the number of students using vouchers has increased.
In the current 2019–20 school year, things become substantially worse for us. Due to last-minute changes in the state budget bill, more students are eligible for EdChoice vouchers. At the same time, the state budgets for school districts throughout Ohio were frozen. Because of this, CH-UH is still funded based on 6,578 students, but now we are responsible for at least 7,200 students. Even though state funding was frozen, the vouchers have been allowed to grow. Therefore, no additional funding will be generated for these additional students, and the district ends up paying the full amount, from $4,650 up to $27,000 per student. The loss is staggering!
If the state made just one change, and funded vouchers and charters directly from the state budget instead of through district funding, it would help many districts across the state, and especially CH-UH. We are one of only 11 school districts statewide that is losing more than 15% of our state funding because of the deduction method the state uses. Of those 11 districts, we lose far more money than any of them—$4.4 million. Besides CH-UH, only Euclid, losing $1.6 million last year, exceeds $1 million.
Our community has a long and proud history of support for our public schools. This current school-funding debacle diminishes that legacy and threatens our future. To learn more about this issue, what you can do to help, and what the Heights Coalition for Public Education is trying to do, go to http://chuh.net/coalition.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.