Education funding is in crisis
It is amazing how adaptable people have been during this global pandemic. In our school district we are learning new ways to do our jobs, trying new ways to reach our students and their families, and adapting to changing parameters. We’ve had to be creative and flexible. It has been especially challenging for our union members who are caring for their own children at home, while working remotely, which, many teachers report is much harder than being in the classroom.
We are currently considering several scenarios for opening school in August. It is impossible to know what will change between now and then, so the need for contingency plans is great.
In all likelihood, school will be different from the past. Class size, for example, may be limited for everyone’s safety. Whatever happens, there will be a need for resources; not only for instruction, but for student health, as well. Staff may be needed to ensure students are healthy when they enter the building, and to maintain a physical distance between them. Staff will surely be needed to provide more cleaning and sanitizing than during normal times. Social and emotional support will be essential because so many young people are experiencing heightened anxiety.
The other reality for the CH-UH school district is that we have just eliminated seven elementary specialist positions, and several retirees will not be replaced. Because the community defeated the levy in April, we can’t depend on additional revenue for 2021.
While we are being flexible in our own district, the state continues to play the same money game it has for the past several years. This school year CH-UH lost over $12 million to voucher programs and charter schools.
EdChoice vouchers will continue to expand by allowing the siblings of current voucher students to enroll in the program, as well as allowing incoming kindergarten and ninth-grade students to participate. CH-UH will lose at least another $1 million dollars next school year.
Further state cuts are looming because the pandemic undermined the financial stability of so many workers and businesses. Education is taking one of the largest hits from proposed state budget cuts. As of this writing, Gov. DeWine has proposed $300 million in cuts to districts for the current school year. For CH-UH this translates to $215 per student.
If the state takes this money away from our allocation for each of the 5,000 students we serve, we lose another $1 million. It is important to know several facts: The state allocates foundation aid based on the total number of students enrolled in our district during the last school year, and includes students receiving vouchers or attending a charter school. The aid amounts to $3,238 per student. EdChoice vouchers cost us between $4,850 and $6,000 per student. Petersen and autism vouchers can take up to $27,000. Charter students take $6,020.
You will notice that each of these numbers exceeds the per-pupil funding we receive from the state. The governor’s current proposal will cost the district an additional $215 for each voucher and charter student. Private and parochial schools are not required to sacrifice at all in this round of cuts. CH-UH is slapped with an additional loss of $344,000 for students we don’t educate.
We are forced to become more creative and flexible in our district, but the state keeps playing the same tune. How is it fair to take more local money to pay for students to go to parochial and private schools? Even during a pandemic, when economic realities have changed drastically, our governor and legislators do more harm than good.
In the coming school year, we can anticipate enormous cuts to our foundation aid. I am hopeful state officials will hear from many CH-UH residents about their concerns and demand that the state use the rainy-day fund to avoid education cuts. At the very least, it would seem only fair that the same cuts to public schools be applied to the voucher and charter school programs.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.