Archives for category: Ohio

The munificently-funded Thomas B. Fordham Institute, based in D.C., controls Educatuon Policy, graduation requirements, curriculum, and testing in Ohio. Mr. Fordham, for whom the institute is named, had no known interest in education, but his namesake is part of the rightwing ALEC nexus, where contempt for public schools, hatred for unions, contempt for gun control and environmental regulation are reflexive.

Laura Chapman, who lives in Ohio, writes:

 

This numbers game is routinely pushed by the Ohio arm of Thomas B. Fordham Institute/Foundation. Oped’s written by employees at criticize the Fordham routinely criticize teacher unions for pointing out the debilitating affects of poverty on students. In a typical rhetorical move, the Fordham “expert” will find one exceptional school with an “A” rating of the state report card rigged to ensure few schools are rated A. Then when you read in detail, you will see that the most exceptional thing about this school is really rare. The same principal has been there for 18 years, lives in the community, and has an uncommon level of trust from her community, the teachers, and students. Test scores were a byproduct of that not the aim of her work as an educator.

In Ohio, the writer most responsible for this misleading journalism and “research” is Aaron Churchill, the Institute’s Ohio Research Director. The Institute says this: Since 2012, Aaron has worked on “strengthening” Ohio policy on standardized testing and accountability, school evaluation, school funding, educational markets, human-resource policies and charter school sponsorship. He writes for the Fordham’s blog, the Ohio Gadfly Daily and contributes op-eds to the Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Dayton Daily News, and Cincinnati Enquirer. Aaron previously worked for Junior Achievement.”

He has not an ounce of documented experience in teaching or studies of education as an undergraduate or graduate student. He gets a free pass on almost everything he submits to the Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Dayton Daily News, and Cincinnati Enquirer. These local newspapers are shrinking and have few if any staff available for questioning this “throughput” of misleading but ready to post news.

Jan Resseger describes the chaos and disruption caused by Ohio’s choice-made Legislature.  

The Ohio House is trying to curb the overreach of the expanded voucher program, which unexpectedly swooped up some white, affluent schools. The hardline Senate, lobbied by generous campaign donor Betsy DeVos, will hang tough to give out as many vouchers as possible, even if it bankrupts entire school districts.

I wonder why no one has put a referendum on the state ballot about whether the public wants vouchers to pay the tuition of religious school students.

At the end of Jan’s excellent article, there is a nugget of good news.

The failed state takeovers are under fire:

On Wednesday, the Ohio House passed another very welcome emergency amendment to Senate Bill 89: to end Ohio’s state school district takeovers established without adequate public hearings in the summer of 2015. The House amendment would end the state takeovers and the top-down, appointed Academic Distress Commissions in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland. Elected representatives from Lorain and Youngstown spoke passionately for the need to restore local control and community engagement in their school districts, which were thrust into chaos in recent years by their Academic Distress Commissions and their appointed CEOs.

 

The Ohio Legislature has created a royal mess in its rush to give vouchers to almost every student in the state. They can’t decide whether the vouchers will be paid by taking money away from the state’s underfunded public schools and how to decide which children get public money to attend private schools.

Jan Resseger untangles the mess in her lucid way. 

Read the whole post, not just this excerpt for her clear analysis.

Rancor and confusion over the issue of EdChoice private school tuition vouchers filled the chambers of the Ohio Legislature all last week. In anticipation of the February 1st date when families were supposed to start signing up for vouchers for next school year, the Legislature set out to address problems with Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program, problems created when changes were surreptitiously inserted into the state budget last summer during last minute hearings by the conference committee.

Last week’s negotiations about the voucher program broke down entirely on Thursday night and Friday, however.  The Legislature has now delayed the EdChoice voucher sign-up process; it has given itself two months to address big problems in the program. Here is how the Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell describes the chaos in Ohio:

Ohio’s controversy over tuition vouchers sparked anger, political posturing and suspense in Columbus this week, with no clarity for anyone. That won’t come for two months.  Parents won’t know until April if their children are eligible to receive a tax-funded voucher toward private school tuition.  Vouchers applications that were supposed to start Saturday won’t. Private schools won’t know if they will receive any state tuition help. And about 1,200 public schools across Ohio don’t know if they will remain on a state list of underperforming schools which lets students use vouchers that are then billed to the district. Even state legislators can’t say what form Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program will take for the fall. After the Ohio House and Senate proposed drastic changes this week to rework which students would be eligible for vouchers and who would pay for them, negotiations fizzled. By Friday, with Saturday’s start of the voucher application looming, both houses voted to delay any applications until April 1, while they search for a compromise.”

One interesting detail about the huge fight in Columbus about school choice right now is that it is taking place among Ohio Republicans. The Ohio Senate has a Republican supermajority; the Ohio House recently dropped from a supermajority to a 61.6 percent Republican majority. Democrats are surely deeply involved, however. Ohio Democrats reliably support the institution of public education in this fight: They insist that public tax dollars ought to be spent on Ohio’s public schools, which everybody agrees remain underfunded.

Today’s debate, however, is about more than whether we ought to have vouchers. After all today in Ohio, we do have vouchers—five kinds of vouchers. There is the original 1996 Cleveland Scholarship program. Additionally there are now four statewide Ohio voucher programs:  Peterson Special Education vouchers, Autism vouchers, EdChoice vouchers, and a newer program, EdChoice Expansion vouchers.

As I listened to the January 31, 2020 Friday afternoon hearing in the Ohio Senate, what I heard were all sorts of arguments about a number of important policy questions. The debate was confusing, just as the whole week’s policy debate in and outside the legislature has been complicated and confounding. Legislators and advocates across Ohio are arguing about four different questions, but the debate has grown increasingly chaotic as people conflate the questions, their answers to the questions, and the intersection of the issues involved.  Here are the four questions:

  • Should Ohio pay for private school tuition vouchers out of the state’s education budget when the state should be spending the money to support what everyone agrees are underfunded public schools?
  • As far as the operation of the EdChoice voucher program goes, should qualification for the vouchers be based on the grades Ohio has been assigning to schools on the state report cards or should it be based on family income alone?
  • As far as the operation of the EdChoice voucher program goes, should the state fully fund the vouchers or should the state be deducting the price of the vouchers from local school district budgets?
  • As far as the operation of the EdChoice voucher program goes, what should the state do to hold harmless the school districts which lost millions of dollars during the current school year when an unexpected and explosive number of students already in private schools claimed vouchers which legislators had surreptitiously—in a brand new state budget—permitted them to claim through a local school district deduction?

Read on to learn Jan’s answers.

Peter Greene believes that Ohio is trying to be like Florida, hoping to expand  vouchers to every student as if every public school in Ohio is rotten. Once the voucher money is approved, the state doesn’t care about the quality of education. Ohio already has a low-performing charter industry, one of the worst in the nation, why not give vouchers to attend religious schools that use the Bible as their science textbook? I wish some entity in Ohio would place a referendum on the ballot and ask voters if they want to defund their public schools in order to expand public funding of vouchers and charters.

He writes:

You will recall that Ohio school districts are facing an explosion in costs as they enter the next phase of the privatization program. Phase One is familiar to most of us–you start out with vouchers and charters just for the poor families who have to “escape failing public schools.” Phase Two is the part where you expand the program so that it covers everybody.

Well, Ohio screwed up its Phase Two. Basically, they expanded the parameters of their privatization so quickly that lots of people noticed. The number of eligible school districts skyrocketed, and that brought attention to a crazy little quirk in their system, as noted by this report from a Cleveland tv station:

We analyzed data from the eight Northeast Ohio school districts that paid more than $1 million in EdChoice vouchers to area private schools during the 2019-2020 school year as part of the program.

Those districts include Akron, Canton, Cleveland Heights-University Heights, Euclid, Garfield Heights, Lorain, Maple Heights, and Parma City Schools.

Out of the 6,319 students who received EdChoice vouchers, we found 4,013, or 63.5%, were never enrolled in the district left footing the bill for their vouchers.

Yep. That means that at the moment this kicks in, the district loses a buttload of money, while its costs are reduced by $0.00. This means that either the local school district cuts programs and services, or it raises taxes to replace the lost revenue, effectively calling on the taxpayers to help fund private school tuition for some students. I wonder how many legislators who helped engineer this are also opposed to plans from Democratic candidates to provide free college tuition at taxpayer expense?

The legislature has been running around frantically trying to– well, not head this off so much as slow it down just enough to reduce the number of angry phone calls their staff has to take. Nobody seems to be saying “This is a mistake” so much as they’e saying “Doing this so fast that people really notice is a mistake.” Someone cranked the heat on the frogs too fast. Meanwhile, this weekend was their last chance to get this fixed before next year’s voucher enrollment opens, and they have decided to punt because everyone is getting cranky.

Is this at least going to help some poor folks? Well, the proposal is to up the cap to 300% of poverty level. That’s $78,600 for a family of four. So there’s that.

Ohio’s legislature is determined to wreak havoc on the public schools that most students attend. Vote these vandals out of office!

 

Steve Dyer: Ohio’s school voucher crisis in four charts
School choicers won’t be satisfied until each school age kid automatically receives a voucher to be cashed in at any place of “learning” even if it is at Uncle Joe’s Bar and Backroom School.
William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614.228.6540ohioeanda@sbcglobal.net| www.ohiocoalition.org

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Adequacy and Equity writes:

 

Accel owner Ron Packard is in a tizzy because some of his charters did not qualify for Ohio’s charter bonus fund
Patrick O’Donnell’s January 11 Cleveland Plain Dealer article—State avoids “loophole” for charter school money, rejects applications for millions—sheds light on yet another charter loopholes embedded in Ohio law.
This loophole provides that charter bonus money appropriated for “high performing” charters can be distributed to “low performing” charters solely because their operator ran schools in other states that had received a federal grant.
For-profit Accel charter chain operator Ron Packard, applied for bonus funds for dozens of schools that didn’t qualify for charter bonus funds; however, he anticipated funding on the basis that an Accel charter in Colorado Springs received a federal charter school expansion grant a few years ago. But the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) rejected the Accel application, citing the Ohio Accel operation fails to connect with those in Colorado. (Who do you suppose got that out-of-state loophole inserted into Ohio Law?)
Ron Packard left K12 Inc. a few years ago as a $5 million per year executive to start Accel. He has a gang of charters in Ohio. Is there any doubt why Mr. Packard is in the education business?
The Gulen charter school chain also applied for bonus money on the basis of the out-of-state provision. Fortunately ODE rejected it on the same basis as the Accel rejection.
William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614.228.6540ohioeanda@sbcglobal.net| www.ohiocoalition.org

Bill Phillis writes about the GOP’s pusillanimous capitulation to its masters and is prepared to sacrifice its public schools to satisfy DC-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute and ALEC, funded by CharlesKoch, the Waltons, and DeVos.

He writes:

School choice zealots seem to be driving the state education policy train
In spite of the harm being heaped on school districts due to corruption in the charter industry and the wild expansion of vouchers, the school choice zealots are in control. State officials seem powerless to establish rational Ohio education policy.
According to current media reports, the voucher “fix” being considered in the Ohio Senate, would lessen the harm to some school districts in the near term but would set the stage for a universal voucher system in the future. The local choice zealots and their big boy moneyed allies, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Fordham Foundation, are driving policy that undercuts the very foundation of the public common school. State officials seem to cower when confronted by the choice crowd.
 
Time to march on Columbus.
Before I saw Bill Phillis’ post, I tweeted an article about a temporary “fix” proposed by the GOP.
Jan Resseger wrote to me that the “fix” is a fraud and her own integrated, mixed-income district will be devastated.

She wrote:

I noticed you forwarded the Dispatch piece as though it will help anybody.  The Ohio Senate “solution” will simply leave in place all the damage from current year.  In CH-UH we have 478 percent growth in vouchers this year.  These kids will carry those vouchers out of our district’s budget each year until they graduate from high school. 

We’ll hope that this afternoon the House mitigates this in some way.  Leaves vouchers in place for now—but moratorium on their growth for a while.  Leaves flawed state report cards in place without a deadline to change them.  Expands income cap on the other kind of state funded vouchers.

The mess is embedded right in this so-called “solution.”

–Jan

Bill Phillis is a public education activist in Ohio. He retired as Deputy State Superintendent of Education in Ohio several years ago.

He writes:

December 1, Columbus Dispatch Capitol Insider: Remember ECOT?
As the article indicates, most people have forgotten the ECOT debacle. The ECOT Man, William Lager, siphoned one billion dollars from school district budgets for a business plan that was designed to collect funds for tens of thousands of students that were not being served and tens of thousands of students that were underserved. Lager’s campaign funds-driven relationship with hundreds of state and federal officials over a couple decades allowed him to steal public money in public view. When citizens began asking questions about the thievery, some public officials scrambled to give the appearance of holding Lager accountable.
School districts will never receive back the millions and millions Lager illegally took from them.
Remember ECOT?
Most Ohioans have probably forgotten that the state is still trying to pry money from leaders of the now-defunct ECOT, the online charter school that shut down almost three years ago.
Even though the state started pursuing the money in 2018, a trial might not happen until 2021 under a recent timetable developed by lawyers for the state and those associated with the former Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.
The attorney general is seeking to recover millions from ECOT founder William Lager; his companies, Altair Management and IQ Innovations; and several former ECOT officials. The lawsuit says Lager had a fiduciary duty to ECOT that was violated by the contracts signed to funnel money to his companies.
The delay is needed because Lager and his companies dumped 50,000 pages of new documents on the state in mid-October, on top of 50,000 already provided, a joint court filing from both sides said.
“The state needs time to review this latest, massive document production,” the filing in Franklin County Common Pleas Court said.
The modified schedule calls for a status conference Sept. 15, 2020, with a trial to be scheduled afterward.
Bill Phillis, longtime head of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, remarked, “Although Lager amassed a lot of wealth on the backs of schoolchildren, it is doubtful that much, if any, will be recovered.”
William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614.228.6540ohioeanda@sbcglobal.net| www.ohiocoalition.org

Jan Resegger summarizes the disastrous Ohio plan to expand vouchers and how grossly unfair it is to public schools, which enroll nearly 90% of the children in the state. As she points out, most of the children drawing money away from her district never attended public schools, yet now their tuition will be extracted from the budget of the public schools. Read her post in its entirety.

She writes:

On Tuesday afternoon, I went to a meeting of my monthly book discussion group—all of us retired and over 70.  But as we sat down with our coffee and before we discussed the book we had all been reading for the month, we found ourselves distracted by the topic that is tearing our community apart: the changes the Ohio Legislature made last summer in the fine print of the FY 20-21 state budget—changes that exploded the size of the state’s EdChoice school voucher program.

I wonder whether legislators have any real understanding of the collateral damage for particular communities from policies enacted without debate. Maybe, because our community has worked for fifty years to be a stable, racially and economically diverse community with emphasis on fair housing enforcement and integrated schools, legislators just write us off as another failed urban school district. After all, Ohio’s education policy emphasizes state takeover and privatization instead of equitable school funding. The state punishes instead of helping all but its most affluent, outer ring, exurban, “A”-rated school districts, where property values are high enough that state funding is not a worry.

What this year’s EdChoice voucher expansion means for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district where the members of my book discussion group all live is that—just to pay for the new vouchers—our school district has been forced to put a property tax levy on the March 17 primary election ballot. Ohio’s school finance expert, Howard Fleeter explains that in our school district, EdChoice voucher use has grown by 478 percent in a single year.  Fleeter continues: “Cleveland Heights isn’t losing any students…. They are just losing money.’” “If this doesn’t get unwound, I think it is significant enough in terms of the impact on the money schools get to undermine any new funding formula.”

Ohio deducts the price of the vouchers students carry to private and religious schools from the local school district budget even though, in the case of Cleveland Heights-University Heights this year, 94 percent of those students have never attended the public schools in our district. The state counts the voucher students who live in our community as though they are enrolled in our school district and then deducts the voucher from the local school budget, but the cost of each voucher is more than the state allocates per pupil.  In fact, in the current Ohio biennial FY20-21 state budget, state public education basic aid funding is frozen, which means our district actually gets no new state funding for each voucher student, but one hundred percent the cost of each voucher is deducted anyway.

Why are the people in my book group so upset about the voucher explosion and another levy on the ballot in March?  We are not a bunch of old ladies grousing about the burden of our taxes.  Two of us co-chaired a successful school levy campaign back in 1993; one person served on the board of education; and the rest were teachers in our school district. As we read the conversation threads on Next Door, where people are accusing our district of mismanaging funds, or paying teachers too much, or hiring too many school psychologists, we worry about all the undocumented misinformation floating around. Members of our group are anxious about our grandchildren and our neighbors’ children who depend on the public schools we have spent our lives supporting and protecting.  But it is difficult to explain what happened in the budget, our plight this winter set in motion last June and July in the budget conference committee, when amendments were added to the state budget without debate. It was done so quietly at the time that people across the state only began to grasp the impact later in August when the Ohio Association of School Business Officials alerted school treasurers about the potential impact.

Fortunately the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District sponsored a special public meeting on January 9, 2020, to explain the changes in the EdChoice Voucher Program and begin quelling the anxiety that is tearing our community apart. The school district has posted the powerpoint presentation from the meeting, and at the meeting,  the school district distributed a clear, factual brochure about the legislature’s changes in the EdChoice Vouchers.  The brochure explains: “(T)he program was expanded to the point of unsustainability. Ohio had fewer than 300 buildings deemed eligible for vouchers in 2018-2019; that number has exploded to 1,200 for 2020-2021. When the Ohio General Assembly passed its biennial budget in July 2019, it froze receipts at 2018-2019 levels. This means that for every new voucher used, none of the cost would be offset by state aid. Legislators also removed the provision that required students to attend a public school prior to using the voucher. Unable to prepare financially for the change, the District was forced the following month to negotiate one-year contracts with the teachers union, as opposed to multi-year contracts. In CH-UH, approximately 1,400 students, 94% of whom have never attended our K-12 public schools, are taking scholarships to attend private schools. This has amounted to an actual loss of $4.2 million for us last fiscal year and an estimated loss of $6.8 million this fiscal year.” Each time a student secures an EdChoice Voucher, that student can keep the voucher, paid for by the school district deduction, every year until the student graduates from high school.

The school district’s information handout continues: “The CH-UH City School District will ask the community for a new 7.9 mill operating levy in March. The current funding issues with EdChoice are the major reason for this millage. In fact, the District would not need to ask for a levy until 2023 if it weren’t for the way EdChoice was funded, and the millage would be significantly less.”

School districts across Ohio are demanding that the Legislature do something about what has become a crisis for many school districts. It is important that the Legislature act quickly, before the February EdChoice Voucher enrollment period for next school year. The Heights Coalition for Public Education, a community organization, has prepared a list of short-term voucher fixes which the Legislature should consider:

  1. Remove budget language from House Bill 166 (the current state budget) expanding vouchers in grades 7-8 and for high schools.  Restore voucher language to pre-budget language.”
  2. Limit state report card ratings on which EdChoice schools are designated to 2017-18 and 2018-19.  Currently districts are held accountable all the way back to 2013-14, and considerable changes in school programming have occurred in the seven ensuing years.
  3. “Restore funding for school districts that have lost funds to voucher students who were not part of their 2019 Average Daily Enrollment.”
  4. “Cut the loss of funds for high poverty (50% economically disadvantage) districts at 5% and other school districts at 10%.”
  5. Adopt the funding methodology for EdChoice Expansion (another Ohio voucher program) which awards vouchers to needy students and pays for the vouchers fully with state funds (not the school district deduction).

State Senator Matt Huffman has long been among the Ohio Legislature’s strongest proponents of school vouchers.  Earlier this week, the Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell reported that Senator Huffman himself supports the fifth voucher fix listed above: “State Sen. Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, wants a bigger change. He is resurrecting his 2017 proposal to offer vouchers to any family in Ohio whose income falls under certain limits… His proposal would have the state, not districts, pay for the vouchers of $4,650 for grades K-8 and the $6,000 a year for high school. That would eliminate many district complaints that voucher costs are killing their budgets.  He said the state can control costs by limiting how many students can use vouchers in a given year. Some extra money is already available in the budget, he said. ‘That seems to be the only way, really, to do this in a fair way,’ he added.”

There is reason for caution here, even though Huffman’s assessment is correct that eliminating the school district deduction method for funding vouchers is the only fair way to address what has become an urgent crisis for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools and for many other Ohio school districts. We all remember Naomi Klein’s 2007 warningabout the danger of adopting “shock doctrine,” privatization policies in a hurry in the midst of a crisis. We need to be sure that any so-called fix isn’t just an opportunity for the Legislature to grow the state’s voucher programs in some other way.  After all, in the case of Ohio’s current voucher mess, the Ohio Legislature itself created the crisis by expanding school privatization with explosive growth in the EdChoice school district deduction.

This blog has emphatically and consistently opposed private school tuition vouchers paid for with public funds, because vouchers undermine public funding for public education. Education privatization is never in the public interest.

However, currently in Ohio, an existential crisis for local school districts demands an immediate solution. The Legislature has saddled school districts with a school privatization program whose size the Legislature has no incentive to control because the money quietly washes out of local school district budgets. Neither can school districts control what is happening to their local budgets when the Legislature has set up an uncontrollable flow of dollars into the vouchers.

Huffman’s proposed solution would not solve the bigger problem of Ohio school vouchers. On the other hand, Huffman’s plan would pay for the vouchers out of the state budget, and as he points out, if it were to be so inclined, the Legislature could control costs by limiting how many students can use vouchers in a given year. Huffman’s idea would address the immediate school district financial crisis. It would then be up to all of us to pressure the Legislature to control the size and number of Ohio school vouchers awarded each year. Perhaps we can motivate a future legislature to eliminate vouchers entirely and return to a system where public dollars serve the mass of our children in the public schools.

Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld reports here that a Democratic legislator has proposed a bill that prevents voucher schools from discriminating against students, staff, or families based on their religion, race, sexual orientation, or disability.

Bill Phillis of Ohio has proposed that religious schools that get vouchers should be subject to the same laws and regulations as public schools and should be required to report their finances and take the same state tests as other publicly funded schools.

Will legislators in Ohio and Indiana tolerate any restrictions on voucher schools?

Will they too be required to be accountable in exchange for getting public money?

Or will the public be forced to pay for schools that discriminate and schools that indoctrinate their students into their religious world-view?