A Child-Centered Solution to School Finance in Ohio

Brian Gottlob
The Buckeye Institute
December 2008

The Buckeye Institute is the latest organization to weigh in on how to improve Ohio's school-funding system. Its recommendation: fund education through a statewide property tax and distribute the funding via a free market, universal voucher system. Under this system, per-pupil dollars would be sent to parents in the form of payment vouchers that parents would then give to the school their child attends-be it a district, charter, or private school. Per-pupil funding would be weighted based on a child's educational needs and include a facilities component. Schools would still be permitted to charge tuition above the public funding level, but a privately funded tuition tax credit scholarship would be available to "promising or deserving" students who want to attend a more costly school. Likewise, if a child enrolled in a school that charged less than the public voucher amount, his family could use the money for tutoring, educational books or materials, or approved education services.

The notion of funding students, not schools, staff, or programs, is a smart one and a primary tenet of weighted student funding, for which Fordham has long-advocated (see here and here), and Ohio would do well to expand quality school choices. But, accountability must accompany choice, something this report leaves out. A Child-Centered Solution to School Finance in Ohio calls for minimal regulation of schools, asserting that "nearly 2 million children and their parents, free to choose from among many schools, can monitor the quality and viability of schools more effectively than can rigid state regulations, enforced by a small number of government officials."

But as Ohio has seen first-hand with its charter schools, families choose schools for a litany of reasons that don't always include academic performance. And parents rarely have perfect or even reliable and easy-to-digest information about the academic performance of their child's school. As a result, our state has low-performing charter schools that languish for years without seeing all the children and families flee as one would expect in a rational choice market (see here). This is a problem that would only grow in the charter, district, and private sectors if accountability standards were relaxed. Read the report here.

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