Since 1986, over 557 school districts throughout Ohio have taken advantage of a very generous program, courtesy of taxpayers, that allows school districts to pay for capital improvements done to their facilities. According to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, this program has funded over 952 projects, involving over 6,089 buildings, at a cost of over $1.25 billion, while saving taxpayers over $115 million. However, this privilege is open to district schools and their buildings only, and denied to charter schools.
The program, formally known as the Ohio School Facilities Commission Energy Conservation Program or the House Bill 264 Program, enables school districts to make energy-related improvements to district buildings that in theory would generate enough energy savings to eventually pay off the improvement bond from which the capital originated from its issuance, along with the cost of financing. The cost savings over 15 years for energy, operational, and maintenance must equal or exceed the cost of implementing the measures. The program allows energy-related improvements, as opposed to merely repairs. This may seem like semantics until the discussion turns on how exactly projects are paid for.
In Ohio, tax levies are typically raised in order to fund capital projects, including improvements to school buildings. Ohio law requires that such levies must be submitted to the voters of the school district for approval. Under HB 264, however, school districts can bypass this process of accountability by invoking the desired project as a qualified,
The Columbus Dispatch is reporting today that Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools will be discontinuing their experiment with charter school creation at the end of this school year. The school of 110 students in grades 9-12 will be absorbed into the district. The main reason cited: once start-up funds ran out ($450,000 from the federal government’s Public Charter School Program), Gahanna Community School’s board and staff were unable to maintain operations with the fractional per-pupil funding provided monthly by the state to all charter schools. Upper Arlington closed a charter school for similar reasons last year.
While it is tempting for me to snark about “unscrupulous charter operators” (believe me, I wrote that blog post and it was really funny) and to rage that the federal government should get its start-up money back from Gahanna-Jefferson and Upper Arlington too, I think it is more important to talk about the object lesson that this situation presents.
The fiscal picture painted by the board and staff of GSC is the daily reality of almost all charter schools across the state: once the start-up funds are spent, the per pupil funding provided for school operations by the state – with no local funds and no facility dollars – is at least a third less than what is available to even the poorest of public districts in Ohio. Gahanna cites the savings that will be had by not having to pay $85,000 for filing separate state
During construction of the continental railroads in the 1860s, workers dug from both ends to tunnel through the Rocky Mountains. When they met in the middle, the tunnel was finished and the trains could roll. This is how America became a great continental power. This image of the tunnel bored from two directions is an apt metaphor for what needs to happen with Governor Kasich’s biennial budget proposal (House Bill 59) and the very different plan emerging from the Ohio House this week.
Governor Kasich’s “Achievement Everywhere” plan has three main things going for it. First, it actually tries to target children and the schools they actually attend as the loci of public funding, as opposed to just spreading money across school districts. Traditionally, school funding has been about simply spreading the money around so far more districts feel like winners than losers. The House version does this by reducing the number of districts receiving no new money from nearly 400 to 175. But in doing so the House version loses some of the worthy Kasich reforms.
Specifically, Kasich’s plan proposed reducing one-size fits all spending restrictions by removing a number of minimum operating standards. This would free up educators but the House puts those standards back in place. They mandate practices like assignment of personnel and the use of specific instructional materials (especially odd considering the speed at which blended learning is spreading across the state). The
Terry Ryan addresses a gathering of the Ohio League of Women Voters at the Riffe Center on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.
Terry Ryan was a guest of the Ohio League of Women Voters today during their annual Statehouse Day, participating in a panel session on education funding in Ohio with Dr. William Phillis, Executive Director of The Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding.
A standing room only crowd of highly-engaged individuals from across Ohio listened to opening statements that looked back at least as much at the history of education funding in Ohio as they looked to the future of that funding, as proposed in the current state budget, HB 59. Dr. Phillis presented the history of changes in the organization and administration and funding of “the public common school” since 1821, raising alarms over loss of money from existing districts via charter schools and vouchers as well as alarms over the loss of local control of education and the loss of community when schooling is not held in common in a given area of the state. He previewed his public testimony for Wednesday by arguing forcefully for a legislative education commission – of the kind that existed in Ohio off and on from 1913 to the 1980s – to research and inform the General Assembly on matters of public education.
Terry took a similar historical
May 8, 2013