Gov. Kasich and legislators mischaracterize their recent state budget by claiming increased funding for Ohio schools. Details tell a very different story of state leaders cutting funding to Ohio's traditional public schools while increasing public dollars to charter schools and vouchers through privatization.
The recently passed state budget pushes millions of additional public dollars to Ohio's vastly failing charter school program and further privatizes public education by paying tuition for even more students to attend private schools. While these categories will receive increased state funding, many traditional public school districts will see a reduction in funds from the state as well as a reduction in per pupil funds districts receive from the state but then must pay to charters.
The additional public dollars allocated to charter schools include increased funding for facilities - bricks-and-mortar charters will receive $150 per pupil in fiscal year 2016 and $200 per pupil in fiscal year 2017 (up from $100) and e-charters will receive $25 per pupil (up from zero before). Online charter operations are required to have a physical site within 50 miles of their students.
Charters were permitted in the last budget to receive state funding to transport their own students. This language clarifies that traditional public schools are still required to transport students to charter schools if the charter operations do not provide transportation to all or even some of their own students.
There is no proof that students who leave traditional public schools perform better in charter schools, in fact, the opposite often is true. Charter students often find themselves in a situation where the traditional public school they left produces better performance index results than the charter they attend. The high cost of charters is not justified and is harmful to the vast majority of Ohio students who are enrolled in traditional public schools. Taking funds from a traditional neighborhood school to pay for a charter causes the traditional neighborhood school to eliminate courses, reduce the number of teachers and increase class size which negatively impacts each student's educational experience.
The budget expands Ohio's numerous voucher programs to further expand the privatization of education, making this an even more lucrative business for private schools. In fiscal year 2016, vouchers for private school tuition will take at least $45.6 million from traditional public schools. That figure jumps to $53.7 million in fiscal year 2017. These figures do not include the cost of the EdChoice voucher which is determined by the number of students who apply for the funds. These amounts also do not include the cost of the Cleveland voucher program which is funded directly by the state and not through the diversion of district funds.
OFT believes the state's responsibility is to provide public education to all. While it is a family's right to choose to send their children to private schools or utilize other alternatives, it is not the state's responsibility to pay private school tuition. The increased value of vouchers is not justified and simply an attempt to privatize education.
The EdChoice program increases the value of each voucher from $4,250 to $4,650 for K-8 (for both fiscal years) and from $5,000 to $5,900 (FY 16) and $6,000 (FY 17) for high school. State funds allocated to the income-based voucher program jumps to $23.5 million in FY 16 to $31.5 million in FY 17. The value of vouchers via the Peterson special ed and autism program increase from $20,000 to $27,000 per pupil. Based on the number of students receiving the special ed and autism vouchers in FY 2015, deductions from school districts could increase by as much as $22.1 million in FY 16 and $22.2 million in FY 17. Higher scholarship amounts may also increase participation which will further increase deductions from school district funds.
State Rep. Mike Dovilla (R-Berea) successfully expanded the Cleveland voucher program to eliminate restrictions on the use of public dollars to pay tuition for students who were already enrolled in private schools. Vouchers were created as a way to provide students in low-performing public schools an alternative, but the system has been hijacked to push public dollars to students who may have never attended a public school. Dovilla also expanded the Cleveland voucher beyond Cleveland to permit the state to pay private school tuition for students in surrounding communities within five miles of Cleveland with at least 15,000 students.
The budget freezes in-state undergraduate tuition charged by state institutions of higher education through FY 17. It also requires them to develop and implement a plan to provide Ohioans the opportunity to reduce the cost of earning a degree by 5 percent.
The budget increases funding for higher ed by 4.5 percent in FY 16 to $1.90 billion and by another 4 percent in FY 17 to $1.98 billion. It earmarks $1.46 billion in FY 16 and $1.52 billion in FY 17 for universities and their regional campuses and $438.7 million in FY 16 and $456.3 million in FY 17 for community and technical colleges.
The formula for universities (including regional campuses) allocates 50 percent of funding for degree completions, a little more than 28 percent for course completions, and the remainder for doctoral and medical education and other factors. The formula for community and technical campuses allocates 50 percent for course completions and 25 percent each for success factors and completion milestones.
The budget funds the Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG), a need-based student financial aid program, at $97.2 million in FY 16 and $100.2 million in FY 17, increases of 7.6 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively. The budget also provides $5 million per year for the newly created Higher Education Innovation Grant Program to achieve sustainable, long-term cost savings for students.
See additional detail about items of interest to OFT members in the state budget.