As we start the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year, my hope for the district is that we continue our positive growth both in and out of the classrooms. Many people have put in countless hours to change the image of West Muskingum Schools and the feedback would indicate that those hours have paid off. West Muskingum has always been and will continue to be a very successful school district, despite the hardships we face in regard to school funding.
I would like to take a few moments to talk about one of the immediate challenges to not only West Muskingum, but to all of public education. Many of you have heard about school choice, sometimes referred to as EdChoice. Originally, these “vouchers” to attend private schools were designated for low income families, who felt they had no way out of what the state considered failing school districts. Those “vouchers” have since been extended to any family who goes to what the state deems an underperforming school.
This would be a good time for a quick reminder of how school funding works in the state of Ohio. This is a quick and very shallow look at how funding works. It is much more complicated than this, but the nuts and bolts of what we face is here. West Muskingum is considered a wealthy district by the state because of our residential valuations and our commercial property valuations. Because of the funding formula, which has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court for the last 23 years, West Muskingum is funded at 32% by the state of Ohio with the other 68% being funded by local taxpayers and businesses.
With that being said, that 32% funding level is applied to any categorical funding we receive as well, such as special education students, transportation, and preschool, amongst others. Just for a point of reference, West Muskingum receives the least amount of state funding of any district in our area and most would be shocked to know that West Muskingum receives less funding than Granville. This becomes important when we discuss how districts are impacted by legislation.
If we are going to discuss EdChoice vouchers, we must talk about open enrollment and how it is also a form of a voucher. Open enrollment is fully funded by the district of residence. I think a quick example will serve us best. The state formula currently says that the cost to educate a student is $6,020. This isn’t true, but we will say it is for the time being. If a West Muskingum resident student open enrolls to any other district there is an immediate deduction from our state funding of $6,020. One would then question, how can they take $6,020 away from you when they only give you 32% of that number to start with? The quick math is, the state gives us $1,926 per student of the $6,020 the state says it costs to educate a child. The rest of that money comes from the local tax base. So, we can’t prevent a student from open enrolling to another school district, but our taxpayers have no control that their tax dollars are going to support other school districts. I would surmise that the vast majority would say that makes no sense at all. I would also think most would say that doesn’t seem fair, just as the Supreme Court said in 1997!
A former superintendent once said to me, “don’t come to me with a problem unless you have a solution.” So common sense would tell me that if there needs to be school choice, and not all schools can be funded equitably, which I could certainly argue that we aren’t, here’s my solution. If a student open enrolls to another district only the state share goes to the enrolling district. Money that was voted on by local residents for their local school district should not be going to fund other districts. To me, that is a simple and equitable fix. If other local districts choose to accept our students on open enrollment, as we do their students, I think it’s only fair that they educate them on the same money that West Muskingum is expected to educate them on or they need to vote on levies themselves to fund those students.
Back to the legislation of the day. The Ohio legislature passed the governor’s budget but with little thought to consequences to public education. Public school dollars are frozen, meaning we will see no increase in state money the next two years, even as fixed costs, as well as state requirements continue to rise. To add to the pain, the budget bill expanded EdChoice Vouchers. This current school year 2019-2020, 517 school buildings worth of students are eligible to receive vouchers. With the new legislation the program is set to grow by 400% next school year. That means nearly 70% of all Ohio public school buildings will be eligible or designated as underperforming for one reason or another. Just over 1,200 schools will be on the EdChoice list if this legislation is not repealed immediately. In 2019-2020 the total dollar amount diverted from public schools to private and parochial schools was $148.2 million. It is difficult to say how much more will be diverted next year if this bill stands as is, but what I can say is that it will serve to cripple public education.
You might ask how a school gets designated as an EdChoice voucher eligible school. It is based on a flawed state report card that is much more a measure of wealth than a measure of academic growth. You need to look no further than the Ohio Department of Education website to find out which schools received A’s on the report card last year. I think you will find they have wealth in common.
The EdChoice voucher system will provide public dollars to private schools. I have no issue with our private schools and West Muskingum has a good relationship with local private schools, but we are adamantly opposed to sending public money to fund private schools. The legislature is making an assumption that private schools are better than public schools. This has to be an assumption because private schools are not subject to the same regulations as public schools and they can also pick and choose who they enroll.
Not only West Muskingum but public districts across Ohio are asking you to contact your legislators and encourage them to repeal the expansion of the EdChoice voucher system before February 1, 2020. I encourage you to contact the following legislators:
Senator Tim Schaffer
1 Capitol Square
Columbus, OH 43215
Representative Adam Holmes
77 S. High Street, 13th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215
I am always available to talk about the school funding crisis in Ohio. If you have any questions, please feel free to stop by the office or give me a call.
West Muskingum Schools Superintendent