As local school districts prepare to implement the state’s new third-grade reading guarantee, many are bemoaning the increased costs associated with providing more reading assessments and interventions to struggling K-3 readers (as required by law) and retaining more kids. The Ohio School Boards Association called the new law, and specifically its reporting requirements, “an unfunded mandate.”
The legislature did dedicate $13 million in competitive funding to support the new mandate, and last week the State Board of Education mulled recommending $105 million to support the law in the Ohio Department of Education’s FY2014-15 budget request. But would more money make a difference? Let’s take a look at the relationship between funding and reading achievement in the past.
Ohio had a reading guarantee on the books more than a decade ago (it was watered down before taking effect). At that time, with a governor (Taft) who had taken on improving early literacy skills as a primary policy objective and with the state coffers flush, Ohio poured millions into literacy improvement programs and professional development for teachers (via programs like OhioReads, the State Institutes for Reading Instruction, adolescent literacy grants, and summer intervention programs – to say nothing of federally funded efforts like Reading First). Chart 1 shows state funding for literacy improvement initiatives and reading professional development, from FY2000-01 (Governor Taft’s first budget) to FY2012.
Chart 1: Dedicated state spending on literacy improvement initiatives and professional development, FY2000 to FY2012
Economists talk about the crowd out effect most often in the context of private spending versus government spending. The theory is that, if the government spends more, then there’ll be less private-sector spending. Why? Assuming a constant supply of money, a greater slice of government spending means a smaller slice for the private sector.
Yet the crowd out effect isn’t limited to public versus private finance. It’s been examined in light of graduate school enrollment (does enrolling more international students crowd out native students?); the labor force (do overeducated workers crowd out jobs for low-skilled workers?); and even charitable donations (do government grants to nonprofits crowd out private donors?).
Crowding out can occur in K-12 education expenditures also, especially with respect to special education spending. Each additional dollar a district spends on special education may mean one less dollar for general education.
To examine at a glance whether special education is crowding out general education, I calculate the ratio of general education to special education spending for ten districts in Ohio. This ratio indicates how many general education dollars a district spends for every dollar of special education. I then compare the ratio of general education to special education for FY 2002 and FY 2011. A declining ratio provides evidence that special education may have crowded out general education, and vice-versa, an increasing ratio provides no evidence of crowd out.
The table below shows ten districts and their general education
Special education in Ohio – like in other states – is a maze of complexity, highly bureaucratic and compliance driven, often a point of contention between educators and parents, frequently litigious, and the single fastest growing portion of spending on public education. It has become something of a sacred cow in education and has been largely impervious to change or improvement efforts. Worse, despite the spending children in special education programs are not making gains academically.
By making some common-sense changes to policies and practices, Ohio could both improve special education services and save money.
Can special education be done better while controlling its growth? This is a question we’ve been asked over and over by school leaders and superintendents who struggle to serve all children well while dealing with tighter and tighter budgets. For answers, in partnership with the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, we turned to Nathan Levenson, one of the country’s leading thinkers on doing more with fewer resources in special education and who has done extensive work with local school districts here in the Buckeye State and across the country. The result is a thought-provoking policy paper, Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio.
Levenson explains that Ohio’s resources for special education - $7 billion spent annually – are “siloed” not only across the K-12 education landscape but also across a dozen or more state and county agencies. In fact, he reports that “less than 50
Who pays for Cleveland students’ education? And who’s paying a greater portion of their education?
The chart below shows that the State of Ohio has contributed far and away the most to Cleveland students’ education. Over the past ten years, Cleveland Municipal School District has received somewhere between one-half and three-fourths of its revenue from the state. In fact, the share of state contributions grew unabated from 2002 to 2009: from 53 percent in 2002 up to 72 percent in 2009. In the past two fiscal years, the share of state contributions fell slightly off its ten-year high, so that in 2011 the state contributed 65 percent of the district’s total revenue.
Source: Ohio Auditor of State, Cleveland Municipal School District 2011 Comprehensive Financial Annual Report (see SR-10 & 11). Note: Calculations do not include miscellaneous income, donations, fees, and investment income (combined, they comprise less than 5 percent of the district’s revenue).
Ex-state congressman Stephen Dyer laments on his blog this week that the state of Ohio has not provided sufficient-enough funding for the students of Cleveland. He writes:
The reason I harp on state money, not total money, Terry (and fellow critics) is because it's the state, not the local residents, which bears the Constitutional duty to fund education. Our local taxpayers have been overly responsible for this cost for too long.
Unless Mr. Dyer proposes