Compared to the previous budget, the two-year state budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly Thursday increased school funding by $700 million. But the funding is still $515 million less than Ohio schools received in 2009.
The result: Cincinnati Public Schools will receive $15 million less in state funding than it did in 2009, joining three in four school districts who have a net loss to funding between 2009 and 2015.
Still, Republicans are calling the funding boost the largest increase to education spending in more than 10 years.
“No school district in the state of Ohio will receive less funding than current levels,” says Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans. “Eighty percent of Ohio’s students … are in one of the school districts that is receiving an increase.”
Stephen Dyer, former Democratic state representative and education policy fellow at left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio, says the claim is dishonest because it ignores longer-term trends in funding.
“It’s like they cut off both of your legs, give you back one of them and say, 'You should thank us,'” he says.
Republicans defend the cuts by citing an $8 billion deficit in 2011, which had to be eliminated under state law. Some of the cuts from that previous budget directly impacted school funding, but the decreases also eliminated subsidies that previously benefited schools, such as tangible personal property reimbursements.
Dyer says the state budget situation has changed since then. Instead of focusing on tax cuts, he argues state legislators should have prioritized education funding.
Another problem, according to Dyer, is how the increased funding is distributed. Although Dyer acknowledges the plan is more equitable than the governor’s original proposal, he says some of the most impoverished schools districts, particularly the poor and rural, will get the smallest increases.
Even if there was full equity, Dyer claims there’s not enough money going into education as a result of years of cuts. To illustrate his point, he gives an example: “If I’m going to go see Superman with three of my friends and it costs $10 each to get in, I’ve got $36 and I give everybody $9, none of us are getting in. Even though I perfectly distributed the money equally, … the fact is none of us are getting in.”
The budget’s tax changes could also impact future local funding to schools. As part of the changes, the state will not subsidize 12.5 percent of future property tax levies — something the state does for current levies. For local taxpayers, that means new school levies will be 12.5 percent more expensive.
That, Dyer argues, will make it more difficult to pass future school levies, and that could force schools to ask for less money if they want levies to get voter approval.
“The legislature and legislators are doing a real disservice to people to tell everybody that they’re getting an increase and no one is getting cut,” Dyer says. “They need to be honest with people.”
The budget also increases funding to “school choice” options, including the addition of 2,000 vouchers for private schooling that will be available to kindergarten students in households making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Republicans argue the vouchers give lower-income children access to schools and options in education that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
But a January report from Policy Matters Ohio found the extra mobility enabled by school choice options hurts student performance and strains teachers and staff by forcing them to more often accommodate new students.
The $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. It’s expected Kasich will sign it this weekend.Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:
Speaking in front of Ohio school administrators Thursday, Gov. John Kasich unveiled a surprisingly progressive-sounding education reform plan that seeks to diminish school funding inequality, but it also expands Ohio’s flawed voucher program.
Kasich said the plan will not cut any school district’s funding, but it will work to reduce gaps between the wealthy and poor. Currently, the poorest school district can get $700 to $800 per pupil for 20 mills of property taxes, while the wealthiest districts can get as much as $14,000 per pupil. The plan will eliminate much of that gap, according to Kasich.
Kasich’s plan will open up extra funding for students with severe disabilities and students who need to learn English, on top of a $300 million “innovation fund” that will reward schools with grants for initiatives that improve learning and teaching.
The plan will also expand the state’s voucher program to provide private school tuition for any family below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — about $46,000 for a family of four. The vouchers, which will become available in the fall, will be worth up to $4,250 a year. Parents will be allowed to choose between participating voucher schools.
But the expansion of “school choice” through more vouchers may not be a good thing. A previous Policy Matters Ohio report found expanded school choice can have negative effects on education, including worse results for students and teachers.
Kasich justified his proposals by claiming, “The Lord is watching us as we make an effort to give our children the knowledge that they want in order to be successful and to pursue their God-given destinies.”
He also said the program is fully funded, which was made possible by extra revenue gained from Ohio’s economic rebound.
On judging his proposals, Kasich said, “We need to think about this not in isolation. We need to think about this over the course of the last couple years.”
Taking the governor at his request, his administration actually signed off on education cuts in the past couple years. Cuts Hurt Ohio, a website that tracks budget cuts enacted by Kasich, shows funding to education was cut statewide by $1.8 billion. For Hamilton County, $117 million in education funding was cut.
Kasich also helped push a few education initiatives through the Ohio legislature. During the press conference, he cited his Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, which forces schools to hold back students who aren’t “proficient” in reading. Kasich also pointed to the new school report cards, which use an A-to-F grading system to give more transparency to parents and enforce higher standards for schools.
The plan will require approval from the Ohio legislature to become law. It also may face scrutiny from courts; the Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled the state's school funding system relies too much on local property taxes.
A pro-gun group called the Buckeye Firearms Foundation says it plans to send 24 school teachers through a training program to avoid mass murders in Ohio schools, which it called “victim zones.” The organization, which has been holding classes for cops and civilians in rural Adams County near Cincinnati for about 15 years, calls the program the Armed Teacher Training Program. So far, there is no word about how many teachers have applied, but the firearms group says it has been flooded with applications.
This move by the in-state gun lobby — which appears to be trying to capitalize off a tragedy linked to another slaughter — echoes the National Rifle Association's call for arming teachers after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It seems designed to push back against efforts to control access to assault rifles and plays off fears that teachers can save students by shooting it out with bad guys. In online photos at the Adams County site, there are people with military style guns, all apparently engaged in legal activities on private property.
The three-day shooting course for teachers in Ohio is supposed to cost $1,000, and the firearms association says it will pick up the tab for the educators it accepts into the class. That means it's putting its money where its munitions are — it is serious about training but does not offer to arm the teachers or buy them guns and bullets. It says it will keep the names of the teachers secret if they ask for confidentiality. The instructors are supposed to include “professional law enforcement personnel” who have faced active shooter situations:
“We believe that while there are many things we can do to help avoid mass murders at schools, it is imperative we allow teachers and administrators to respond quickly and effectively. That means having at least a few armed personnel on the scene so schools are no longer ‘victim zones.' We have resolved to create a curriculum for a standardized Armed Teach Training Program which can be adopted around the county.”
The report, which was put together by Agenda 360 and Vision 2015, compares Cincinnati to other cities in a series of economic indicators. The cities compared were Cincinnati; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Cleveland; Columbus; Denver; Indianapolis, Ind.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Pittsburgh; Raleigh, N.C.; and St. Louis.
First, the good news: Cincinnati has an unemployment rate
lower than the national average, at 7.2 percent. As far as job growth,
total jobs, per-person income and average annual wage goes, Cincinnati
ranked No. 6. Cincinnati was also No. 5 in poverty ranks — meaning the
city had the fifth least people below 200 percent of the federal poverty
level among the 12 cities measured. For the most part, Cincinnati moved up in these ranks since 2010.
When it comes
to housing opportunities, Cincinnati claimed the No. 2 spot, only losing to
Indianapolis. That was a bump up from the No. 3 spot in 2010.
The bad news: Cincinnati didn’t do well in almost
every other category. In terms of educational attainment — meaning the
percent of the population 25 years or older who have a bachelor’s
degree or higher — Cincinnati was No. 9, with 29.3 percent having a bachelor's degree or higher in 2010. That was a slight improvement from the No. 10 rank in the previous report, which found 28.5 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher in 2009.
Cincinnati did poorly in net migration as well. The city was No. 10 in that category, only beating out St. Louis and Cleveland. The silver lining is the city actually gained 1,861 people in 2009 — an improvement from losing 1,526 people in 2008.
Cincinnati also seems to have an age problem. The city
tied with Pittsburgh for the No. 10 spot with only 60.2 percent of the 2011 population made up of people between the ages of 20 and 64. The report also says the
city has too many old people, an age group that tends to work less, provide less tax revenue and use more government and health services. Cincinnati ranked No. 8 in terms of “Old Age
Dependency,” with 20.4 percent of the city made up of people aged 65 and
older in 2011.
However, the report does have a positive note through all the numbers: “In fact, our current pace of growth, especially in the people indicators, exceeds many of our competitors and if this pace continues, our rank could be much improved by our next report.”
The tougher reading standards could potentially hold back 12 percent of Ohio third-graders, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
With the new rules, kids would be tested every year starting in Kindergarten. Any kids who are below standards would receive special tutoring, and any who fail to improve to “proficient” or above by the time of the third-grade reading test would be held back.
Similar standards were passed in Florida a decade ago. While it was rough at first with 13 percent of third-graders in Florida being held back, scores have begun improving, Patricia Levesque, former education advisor to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, told The Dispatch.
However, research shows holding kids back hurts them more than helps. After reviewing decades of research, the National Association of School Psychologists found that grade retention has “deleterious long-term effects,” both academically and socially.
Kasich has also proposed tougher grading standards for schools and districts, which he hopes will hold schools more accountable.
Republican critics don’t necessarily oppose all the reforms, but they would like to see the reforms implemented more carefully and slowly. School officials, state education groups and teachers unions have repeatedly asked for more time to tell parents and teachers about the upcoming changes.
The news comes at a time when states around the country are moving to enact education reform after years of disappointment. In 2010, the U.S. fell to a rating of “average” in the international rankings released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. ranked No. 14 out of 34 OECD countries in reading, No. 17 for science and a below-average No. 25 for math.
One bright spot was found earlier this year when a report showed U.S. high school graduation rates had increased to 75.5 percent in 2009, up from 72 percent in 2001.
President Barack Obama has tried to encourage widespread education reform with his “Race to the Top” initiative. The program pushes states to compete for funds with education reform plans. The states with the best programs are then rewarded federal funds as they implement reform.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland won funds for Ohio with his reform plan, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan congratulated Ohio for being on schedule with reforms earlier this year.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday laid out five steps that he said would have America “roaring back” during his first campaign stop since formally accepting the Republican nomination.
At Cincinnati's Union Terminal, Romney was joined on stage by his wife Anne, who spoke briefly, echoing her convention speech meant to humanize her husband.
He said his plan involved encouraging development in oil and coal, implementing a trade policy that favored American companies and not “cheaters” like China, making sure workers and students had skills to succeed in the coming century, reducing the deficit and encouraging small business growth.
“America is going to come roaring back,” Romney told the crowd of thousands packed inside Union Terminal.
Not everyone was so impressed with the GOP nominee’s promises.
About an hour after the Romney campaign event, Cincinnati Democratic leaders held a news conference to rebut the Republican’s speech.
“Much of his (Romney’s) speech was like his speech in Tampa, which is where Romney gave Cincinnatians nothing more than vague platitudes, false and misleading attacks without one single tangible idea on how to move forward,” said Democratic/Charterite Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson.
Simpson, along with Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas and Bishop Bobby Hilton, attacked the tax plan put forward by Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. They said it would cut taxes for the richest Americans while raising taxes on the middle class by about $2,000 per household, citing an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
“Mitt Romney’s plan would take Ohio and Cincinnati backwards, and we don’t have time to go backwards,” Hilton said.
Hilton credited Cincinnati’s revitalization and urban development in part on federal money obtained from Obama’s stimulus plan.
“We deserve better than this. We deserve better than Romney/Ryan,” he said.
Romney would have disagreed with Hilton’s assessment of Cincinnati’s growth. During his speech he praised Ohio Gov. John Kasich, crediting him with bringing jobs and businesses to the state.
Romney also took time to attack President Barack Obama’s record in office. The GOP nominee said in preparation for his convention speech he read many past convention speeches — including Obama’s.
“He was not one of the ones that I wanted to draw from, except I could not resist a couple of things he said, because he made a lot of promises,” Romney said. “And I noted that he didn't keep a lot of promises.”
Romney also criticized what he called the bitterness and divisiveness of Obama’s campaign, saying as president he would bring the country together. He mentioned the “patriotism and courage” of the late Neil Armstrong, who was honored in a private service in Cincinnati on Friday.
“I will do everything in my power to bring us together, because, united, America built the strongest economy in the history of the earth. United, we put Neil Armstrong on the moon. United, we faced down unspeakable darkness,” Romney said.
“United, our men and women in uniform continue to defend freedom today. I love those people who serve our great nation. This is a time for us to come together as a nation.”
The candidate’s remarks ignited the crowd of thousands, many of whom wore shirts with slogans like “Mr. President, I did build my business,” in response to a remark made by Obama about businesses being helped to grow by government contracts and infrastructure, and “Mitt 2012: At least he never ate dog meat,” referring to a passage in Obama’s 2008 memoir during which he recalls being fed dog meat as a boy in Indonesia.
Steve Heckman, a 62-year-old environmental consultant from Springfield, Ohio, said he voted for Obama in 2008 but will likely vote for Romney in this election.
He said he’d written “some pretty ugly stuff” about Romney in the past but felt jobs was the No. 1 issue and thought the Obama administration’s policies were sending them out of the country.
“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has, to me, become a little too almost like a fringe group, putting so much pressure on businesses that they are moving to Canada,” Heckman said. “Things like air permits, the EPA is taking too long to issue them. It’s not just power plants they’re affecting, but all manufacturing.”
Heckman said he didn’t blame the president personally but thinks whoever he put in charge of the agency is being too strict.
“I grew up when the EPA was first put in place in the '70s, and they were, in my opinion, doing God’s work,” he said, citing the cleaning up of rivers such as the Cuyahoga near Cleveland, which famously caught fire because of pollution in 1969.
“I support the EPA, but it’s driving businesses out of here.”
Speaking ahead of Romney were U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Rob Portman, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio treasurer and GOP senatorial candidate Josh Mandel and Republican U.S. House candidate for Ohio’s 2nd District, Brad Wenstrup.
“This election is all about changing Washington,” Mandel said. “The only way to change Washington is to change the people we send there.”
Last week, it was reported that the Ohio Department of Education had hit
the jackpot with a record $771 million in lottery profits. By state
law, lottery profits are supposed to go to the Lottery Profits Education
Fund, which funds schools in Ohio. At first, it seemed like a great
opportunity to increase education funding.
Maybe not. In a joint statement this morning, the Ohio School Boards Association, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the Ohio Association of School Business Officials explained the money does not mean more money for schools.
“While it is true that all Ohio Lottery profits are used by the state to fund education, the profit from increased sales was simply used to free up other state funds that had previously been set aside for schools, allowing more money to be transferred into the state’s rainy day fund,” OSBA Executive Director Richard Lewis said in the statement.
Despite the lottery profits, funding for Ohio’s school foundation payment program remains at $7.2 billion — exactly as established by Gov. John Kasich’s 2011 budget plan.
In other words, no gain for schools, but some gain for the state’s rainy day fund.
The news comes as a bit of a buzz-kill to schools that are already feeling cuts from the two-year state budget plan passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Kasich.
For the 2012 fiscal year, Kasich’s budget cut funding to the Department of Education down to $10.3 billion, a 4.9 percent reduction from the year before, largely due to the loss of federal stimulus dollars. But another 4.9 percent cut is planned for the 2013 fiscal year, lowering funding to $9.8 billion, which is even lower than the amount of funding the Department of Education received in 2008 and 2009 — before the state received federal stimulus dollars.
A Democrat who was challenging Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann in this fall’s election has left the race due to work commitments.
Greg Harris, a West Sider who is a former Cincinnati city councilman, said Monday night that a contract awarded to his educational consulting firm means he will be spending a large amount of time outside of the region. Harris’ firm, New Governance Group, recently was awarded a major contract with a nonprofit group in Delaware that seeks to improve public education in that state.
“When I filed (to run for commissioner), I filed in all sincerity,” Harris said. “It was before I got this contract.”
He added, “I feel bad. This was a race I really wanted to run in, but with all the traveling, I’m not equipped to give it the time it deserves.”
Harris, 40, announced his candidacy in early December, when he filed paperwork to run against Hartmann, a Republican incumbent who is seeking his second term.
The Hamilton County Democratic Party now will be able to select a replacement for Harris on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Harris was appointed in January 2009 to Cincinnati City Council to fill the unexpired term of John Cranley, who was facing term limits. But Harris lost in an election that November, finishing 10th in balloting for the nine-member group, missing the final spot by about 3,400 votes. During his brief term, Harris angered the city’s police and firefighter unions by suggesting changes that he said would improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Through his consulting firm, Harris had served as public policy advisor for Cincinnati-based KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national education philanthropy that seeds educational practices and policy reforms.
An Illinois native, Harris moved to the region in 1993 to attend graduate school at Miami University in Oxford. He stayed here after graduation and served from 2000-05 as executive director of Citizens for Civic Renewal, a nonprofit public advocacy group that promotes good government, volunteerism and civic involvement.
Harris ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) twice, in 2002 and 2004. He also was prepared to challenge Hartmann for the Hamilton County Commission seat in 2008 until Democratic Party leaders cut a deal with the GOP and asked Harris to step aside and let Hartmann run unopposed. A reluctant Harris complied.
Child poverty and its causes will be one of the main focuses of the conference. Nearly 15 million children in the United States, or 21 percent of all children, live in families below the federal poverty level, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP). A study from the NCCP found Cincinnati has the third-worst children’s poverty rate at 48 percent. Only Detroit and Cleveland were worse, with 53.6 percent and 52.6 percent, respectively.
“We’re going to look at all the range of policies and practices and the impact of those and what we can do,” CDF President Marian Wright told WVXU today. “It’s going to be a real teach-in on what we must do to move forward and stop the move backwards, which I think we’re in the midst of.”
The conference will also look at education issues. It seeks to shine light on the issue of the achievement gap between the poor and non-poor and racial disparities. A 2011 analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics found black and Hispanic students are behind their white peers by 20 test-points in math and reading tests provided by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The difference equates to about two grade levels.
The conference will also look at child health care services, zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools and tools and programs that can be used to improve the lives of struggling children.
Anyone is free to register at CDF’s website to join the conference. Experts, doctors and activists will also be there.