Governor's school funding bamboozle

Yesterday, finally, the Governor released his district by district breakdown of school funding. To say that the numbers didn't reflect the rhetoric given at the rollout would be quite the understatement. During the rollout the Governor and his education advisors led everyone to believe that funding levels would be based upon district property wealth and income. The breakdowns produced however show almost the opposite.

David Varda, executive director of the Ohio School Business Officials Association, said he suspects many school officials in poor districts expected more state aid under Kasich’s plan.

“Based on the premise that this funding was going to deal with disparity, I’m surprised by some of the lower-wealth districts not getting any increase while some higher-wealth districts are getting more, although they seem to be districts with growing enrollment,” Varda said.

If districts were expecting more, the vast majority are going to be greatly disappointed. We looked at the percentage funding increase being offered for 2014 and produced the following chart

As you can see from this chart, 396 of 614 districts received zero extra dollars for 2014. When one factors in inflation, the number grows in real terms to over 400. Worse still, the funding data released by the Governor does not include money that districts will lose to charter schools and voucher recipients - in 2012 that was over $700 million in Ohio.

The Governor had promised $1.2 billion in extra funding, but when totaling the increases for 2014 and 2015 we can only count to $563,713,406. Even accounting for the $300 million "Straight A fund" we're struggling to see how we get to the promised $1.2 billion

In order to explain this bizare school funding formula, the Governor's education advisors had to resort to even more bizarre word games with reporters

Kasich education policy advisor Barbara Mattei-Smith said that’s because school districts that many people think of as “poor” are not actually poor for the purposes of determining state funding under the Kasich plan.
Kasich education advisor Dick Ross said, while the funding estimates may surprise some, they represent “reality.”

“Maybe the perception needs to be recognized as not being what’s real,” he said.

What is real is the ongoing underinvestment in Ohio's public schools by this Governor. The numbers, which he was reluctant to release, speak for themsevles.

Are you prey to a "choice" stealth campaign

Think public-school teachers are bad and vouchers are good? You may be prey to a well-funded stealth campaign.

In June 1995, the economist Milton Friedman wrote an article for the Washington Post promoting the use of public education funds for private schools as a way to transfer the nation’s public school systems to the private sector. “Vouchers,” he wrote, “are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system.” The article was republished by “free market” think tanks, including the Cato Institute and the Hoover Institution, with the title “Public Schools: Make Them Private.”

While Friedman has promoted vouchers for decades, most famously in his masterwork Free to Choose, the story of how public funds are actually being transferred to private, often religious, schools is a study in the ability of a few wealthy families, along with a network of right-wing think tanks, to create one of the most successful “astroturf” campaigns money could buy. Rather than openly championing dismantling the public school system, they promote bringing market incentives and competition into education as a way to fix failing schools, particularly in low-income Black and Latino communities.

Even before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling deregulated campaign finance and unleashed millions in political donations, concentrated wealth has played a role in politics. Now in the limelight for its attacks on unions and the exposure of 800 model bills and documents, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has produced model bills favorable to its corporate and right-wing funders behind closed doors for decades (as In These Times uncovered in 2011)– including school vouchers and tax credit bills.

This concentrated wealth is reaching into America's classrooms state by state, promoting the transfer of public funds to private education through vouchers that allow parents to pay for tuition at private schools with public money. Promoting “school choice” through privately run charter schools doesn’t go far enough for these billionaires. Today, “private school choice” programs, as vouchers are called in the annual report of the Alliance for School Choice, are in place in 13 states and the District of Columbia. In 2011, a year when states across the nation slashed their education budgets, 41 states introduced 145 pieces of private school choice legislation.

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Outrage over school cuts rises

From emails and phone calls, to angry town halls, legislators have been on the receiving end of a backlash to the reckless budget the Governor has proposed.

Battered by angry crowds at suburban school district meetings in recent days, House Republican lawmakers will offer up changes Thursday limiting the budgetary pain inflicted on schools by Gov. John Kasich's budget proposal.

House Finance Chair Ron Amstutz said many changes to the $120 billion, all-funds budget proposed by Kasich are coming, including tweaks to a controversial blueprint for funding schools over the next two years authored by the Republican governor.

"We are looking to take the edge off of this problem across the spectrum of school districts -- not just for the upper" property wealth districts, said Amstutz, a Wooster Republican shepherding the budget through the GOP-controlled House. "But we are concerned about the districts getting high percentage cuts."

Taxpayers from those districts, many in traditional Republican territory, are also concerned -- and downright angry. Hundreds of them have been giving GOP lawmakers an earful at recent community meetings.

The "solution" being considered by the Republicans from wealthy suburban districts that are seeing large cuts is to shift those cuts to poorer school districts, as Ohio Budget Watch reports

Some Republicans from suburban districts that are receiving deep cuts in school funding are looking to change the funding model. The Plain Dealer is reporting that Representative Nan Baker’s (R-Westlake) proposal to cap cuts in funding at 20% for any one school district is being seriously considered by the House Republican Caucus. House Finance Chair Amstutz called it an “excellent amendment” that is “well conceived”. Which is kind of funny considering Governor Kasich said that no district receives a cut of over 8% in his budget but for some reason House Republicans are having to consider an amendment to cap cuts at 20%. I guess that is nether here nor there, though.

According to sources in the article, by capping the amount of cuts per school district at 20% this creates a hole of $114 million in the state budget. And how exactly to House Republicans fill the gap? Simple, by taking the small increases that low property wealth school districts receive in this budget and giving it to the high property wealth school districts.

It should come as little surprise that the theory of balancing the budget on the backs of schools and teachers was never going to be popular, however the Republican controlled legislature is still resistant to solving the budget problem in a balanced way.

But Rep. Ron Amstutz, a Republican from Wooster, and Rep. Christina Hagan, a Republican from Alliance, did make one thing clear: The House GOP isn’t going to back tax increases as a means of balancing the budget.

One thing is clear, there's very little appetite for this reckless budget. The GOP legislature and Governor now seem at odds with each other, and anger in the communities continues to rise.