Lima, Ohio, recently named the nation’s ninth saddest city, received some cheer earlier this week when Governor John Kasich strode into town for his annual state of the state address. Among the myriad of topics the governor touched upon was K-12 education reform, and the residents of Lima—and many more across the Buckeye State—should be heartened by the education reforms he proposes.
Among the boldest and most exciting reforms the governor proposes, is his overhaul of the state’s school funding formula. The funding proposal the governor has laid forth levels the playing field for all Ohio students. It ensures that youngsters who attend a public school system with less local wealth—measured by property value and income—receive more state aid. For example, according to the governor’s preliminary FY 2014 estimates, the property and income-rich Upper Arlington schools near Columbus would receive no state aid for its regular students. (It would receive aid for its special education, economically disadvantaged, gifted, and English language learner students.) The state assumes, correctly, that Upper Arlington’s local residents can and will raise sufficient revenue to educate their children. This is sensible public finance—furnishing limited state funds to Upper Arlington is like giving Donald Trump social security. They simply don’t need it.
Meanwhile, the governor’s proposal provides generous state aid to students who reside in poorer, hard-scrabble communities such as Lima. Lima doesn’t have five-bedroom homes that generate large amounts of school tax revenue, and additionally,
In the early years of Ohio’s voucher programs, proponents of private school choice cautioned that schools wouldn’t participate if government asked too much of them in the way of regulations and accountability for student achievement. That was certainly a plausible theory at the time – after all, when the EdChoice Scholarship program launched in 2005, Ohio’s public schools were only just getting used to our increased battery of state tests. But evidence from a new report shows that the theory doesn’t hold true today, and that policymakers could pursue expanded accountability for private schools—especially when it comes to transparency about student achievement and progress.
The Fordham Institute’s national team commissioned David Stuit of Basis Policy Research and his colleague Sy Doan to examine closely thirteen existing voucher and tax credit scholarship programs and describe the nature and extent of their regulations as well as how many private schools participate in them (and how many do not). They also asked them to survey private schools in communities served by four of the country’s most prominent voucher programs (including EdChoice and the Cleveland Scholarship & Tutoring Program) to see how heavily regulations and program requirements weigh in schools’ decision whether to participate.
The result is the new Fordham report School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring. What does it tell us?
Specific to Ohio, Stuit and Doan determined that:
- Ohio’s voucher programs have the second-most extensive testing-and-accountability requirements of all programs in the nation.
- Considering a total of 10 factors,
We don’t know the fine-grain details of Governor Kasich’s education plan yet, but the early indicators are promising. Many of the state’s district superintendents have reacted positively to the plan—though, without specifics, their comments remain guarded. The plan also earned praise from economist Eric Hanushek of Stanford University, who calls the governor’s plan “a significant improvement in the financing of Ohio schools.” Hanushek adds, saying that Kasich “has targeted extra funding toward achievement and has set the stage for unleashing local innovation to boost student outcomes."
A few of the promising elements that may have sparked the interest of Hanushek and others include targeted funding for innovation, a revamped funding formula, and expansions for quality school choice. Specifically, in his plan, the governor has proposed to:
- Establish an innovation fund: Dubbed the “Straight A Fund,” this $300 million pot would provide competitive grants for one-time, innovation projects. As the Governor’s team presented it, these one-time projects may include, for example, retrofitting a school’s technology or establishing more efficient management systems.
- Provide facilities funding for charter schools: Currently, charter schools don’t receive state dollars for facilities, meaning that charters have to pay for facilities out of their operating fund. The governor’s plan provides $100 per-pupil funding to charters for facilities, which would free charters to spend more on classroom instruction.
- Broaden voucher eligibility to more low-income families: Tuition vouchers to attend private schools are currently only available to students who would otherwise
Growing quality charter schools requires strong charter school authorizers. That’s a key takeaway from Stanford University’s CREDO study, Charter School Growth and Replication, released yesterday. To assess charter school quality in 23 states (including Ohio) and the District of Columbia, CREDO examined over 2 million charter student records from 2005-06 to 2009-10.
A charter school authorizer, of which Fordham is one, has four primary responsibilities: (1) review charter applications, (2) contract with the charter school, (3) ensure compliance, and (4) renew or not renew the charter school’s contract based on school performance, especially academic performance. In each area of responsibility, except compliance, CREDO’s findings suggest that charter school authorizers must strengthen its practices to ensure a growing supply of high-quality charters. Three of CREDO’s findings, in particular, have relevance to charter authorizer practices.
First, CREDO found significant variation in the quality of charter school management networks, or CMOs (e.g., KIPP). Authorizers must be persnickety in the educational organizations with whom they contract—there are sour lemons as well as delicious apples in the CMO barrel. CREDO’s analysis discovered that the finest CMO networks (e.g. KIPP and Uncommon Schools) have large positive effects on students’ learning growth, while the lowest performing networks (e.g. White Hat and Responsive Education Solutions) have far less favorable effects on student learning. They also noted that charters that were supported by the Charter School Growth Fund “had significantly higher learning gains than other