America’s states, cities and schools are hurting big time financially. This is not news but the fact that the bad news keeps coming especially hurts. For example, just released unemployment numbers show an increase to 8.3 percent as American households lost 195,000 jobs. The underemployment rate – which includes those who are underemployed or who are working part time rose to 15 percent. This economic pain has struck education hard, leaving public school budgets strapped for cash and making business-as-usual more and more difficult. Districts around the country are now starting to take some drastic, and sometimes controversial, actions.
Highland Parks Public Schools, a small district in Michigan that is one the state’s lowest-performers, is on the verge of financial collapse. It made news last week when officials there announced plans to outsource its schools to a private for-profit charter school operator. The district handed over operations to The Leona Group which runs 54 schools in five states; 22 of its schools are in Michigan. The Leona Group will now oversee decisions around the hiring of staff, school curriculum and instruction, as well as school facility and maintenance issues.
What led up to such drastic action and are more districts right behind Highland Parks Public Schools? A perfect storm of low enrollment, poor fiscal management, and some of the worst academic results in the state prompted Highland Parks Public Schools to take bold action. Since 2006 district enrollment has
If all goes as planned, Columbus City Schools Superintendent Gene Harris will have a levy on city voters' ballots in November. She has presented a levy proposal to a citizen advisory committee, who is currently reviewing her proposal. According to Columbus Dispatch reports, the levy could increase taxes on residential property owners by up to an additional 15.56 mills. This would translate to an additional $545 tax per every $100,000 of a home’s market value. (The details of her proposal are not posted on the Columbus City Schools’ website.) If the advisory committee recommends the levy and voters approve the tax, Harris’ tax increase will hit the wallets of property owners starting in 2013.
To educate Columbus’ citizens who may soon decide on whether to raise taxes, KidsOhio recently issued an excellent fact sheet about the district. In particular, they do well in comparing the district‘s student achievement and finances for three school years: 2003-04, 2007-08, and 2010-11. Some facts to consider from their report include: The district
- lost 12,000 or 19 percent of its students, from 2004 to 2011
- cut 1,670 jobs or 19 percent of its labor force, from 2004 to 2012
- spent $15,000 per pupil in 2010-11, the third highest per pupil expenditure in Franklin County
- “passed through” $97 million to charters in 2012, an increase from $64 million in 2008
- projects a $71 million shortfall in its cash position by FY 2015, despite having a $112 million cash surplus balance
Columbus City Schools are on the path to putting a property-tax levy on the November ballot (though it’s not a done deal; a citizen’s advisory committee will make its recommendation regarding a levy to district leaders next week and an official decision will follow). District officials say they need $355 million to maintain current programs, and to fund new initiatives, through the 2016-17 school year. Superintendent Gene Harris has indicated that the increase is needed, in part, because the district’s students are increasingly challenged – more kids are living in poverty, learning English, and disabled than in the past. Kids are also moving more frequently within, and to and from, the district.
Aside from a few big-ticket items (like sharing local tax dollars via grants with high-performing charter schools, increasing reading intervention in fourth and fifth grades, and purchasing new school buses), the district hasn’t detailed if, and how, it might alter its overall spending patterns if the levy passes. In the meantime, we can look at how the district is spending money today versus a few years back, for clues.
Charts 1 and 2 show per-pupil spending for Columbus’s elementary and middle schools against the percent of students in each school who were economically disadvantaged for the 2005-06 and 2010-11 – the most recent year for which data are available—school years (2005-06 dollars are adjusted for inflation to reflect 2011 values).
In a turn of events that reflects today’s economic and fiscal realities, the Reynoldsburg City Schools’ board of education approved an open enrollment policy last week. The decision is noteworthy as Reynoldsburg will become the first of Columbus’ suburban public districts to adopt an open enrollment policy.
Under Ohio’s open enrollment policy, public school districts can voluntarily admit students from other districts, at no cost to the student. Districts throughout the state have generally adopted open enrollment; nearly eighty percent of Ohio’s 664 public schools districts participate in open enrollment according to the Ohio Department of Education. However, few open enrollment districts are located near Ohio’s metropolitan areas, a fact shown in the chart below.
Figure: Number of districts adopting open enrollment by Ohio metro area, 2011-12
Source: Ohio Department of Education. Note: District count is based on the county in which the major city is located.
A district of nearly 6,000 students, Reynoldsburg City Schools serves the middle-class, eastern suburbs of Columbus. The district maintains an “excellent” rating from the state (its second-highest rating), and around eighty to ninety percent of its students reach proficiency in math and reading every year. Open enrollment risks these sterling academic marks. Due to Reynoldsburg’s proximity to Columbus City Schools, the district may absorb