Parents for Public Schools believes that quality public schools must be funded in a way that is equitable and adequate. Across the country, legislators are making decisions that will affect our schools for generations. We have asked Susie Kaeser, a PPS board member to share the Ohio story and the harm that vouchers are doing in her community. -Nita

Where is the Outrage?

This is the question William Phillis, Ohio’s guardian of public education, poses at the end of most of his blog posts.

Phillis is the standard bearer for fairness in school funding. In 1992 he left his post as Ohio’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction to lead the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. This alliance of school districts filed suit against the state of Ohio for its failure to meet its constitutional obligation to support public education. In 1997 the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the DeRolph case, finding that the legislature failed to provide for a “thorough and efficient” system of common schools.

The state has never rectified the problem. In fact, it continues to short change public schools and destabilize this cornerstone of our democracy.

Mr. Phillis is outraged by the state legislature’s latest travesty: allowing public funds to be used to privatize education through charter schools and vouchers.  Privatization has many problems but the biggest is that it takes money away from children who attend public schools.

The funding system for privatization is crazy. The state mandates a level of funding for private school users but does not provide all of the funds it promises. Instead, it expects local school districts to pay most of the cost. This can create significant hardship for a local school district that receives limited state funds or has a large number of charter school or voucher users. The CH-UH schools have both problems.

This year the legislature guarantees each Ohio charter school student $6,000 and voucher funding per student ranges between $4,900 and $27,000. The CH-UH schools receive about $2,000 in basic state aid per student. The district receives that level of funding for all of the students who live in the district and attend the public schools, and for the 400 students who attend a charter school, and the 650 student who use a voucher to attend a private school. Unfortunately, the $2,000 in state aid only covers about 30% of the promised tuition to a charter school.  The other 70% comes out of the money that was generated by the public school students.  This is a similar shortfall for voucher costs.

In effect, public school students are subsidizing private education for their neighbors. This undermines the capacity of local school districts to provide a quality education. Districts can raise local taxes or cut programs. Privatization perpetuates the equity and adequacy problem.

Sometimes an issue really has to be felt and understood in local terms to catch our attention.  Recent data on the cost of privatization to my school district – the CH-UH Schools – has moved my concern for privatization from outrage to visceral fear!

I’m worried for the future of my school district and community if the legislature does not stop this attack on public education.

Here are the numbers that terrify me. In 2016 the Heights community passed a 5.5mil property tax increase that will generate about $5,800,000 a year for our schools. These precious dollars will not go very far given the cost the district must shoulder for privatization. Last year it transferred about that much – $5,734,000 to private education operators. This year privatization will cost the district $7,208,000. Remember 70% of that money was supposed to go to the public schools. Public school students will be out more than $4,900,000 this year. What about next year?

If the bill for privatization keeps going up at this rate, there is no way the community can make up for lost state funds.

Privatization is inefficient, destructive, punitive, and inconsistent with a thorough and efficient system of public schools. It’s not sustainable. It’s a misplaced priority that makes the funding system even less equitable and less adequate. It is a real threat to public education and sacrifices the common good.

Public funds for education are scarce. Ohio has underfunded schools for years and after decades of tax cutting at the state level, public funds for meeting all of the needs of our state are scarce. If lawmakers want all children to have quality education they need to invest in the public system that guarantees access to all.   

Citizen action is often the only line of defense when it comes to turning back a damaging policy. We need to face the reality that precious public funds are being diverted from their public purposes and the losses are significant.

Let our outrage be a call to action!

Susie Kaeser is a product of the public schools of Madison, Wisconsin and has been a public school advocate for 40 years. She founded and for 17 years directed Reaching Heights, a community-based nonprofit organization to support the Cleveland Heights-University Heights, Ohio school district. Her children are graduates of that school district. For the last four years she has been the co-convenor of the Heights Coalition for Public Education that educates and mobilizes the community to end state mandated privatization and test and punish accountability policies. She serves on the board of Parents for Public Schools.

 

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