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Denis Smith, who previously worked in the Ohio Education Department’s charter school division, writes here about the Byzantine school finance system of the state, which enables charters to be funded at the expense of public schools.
Last fall, the Columbus Dispatch published an article, Are local school taxes subsidizing Ohio Charters? that confirmed the Byzantine nature of Ohio school finance and the complexities surrounding the calculation of state school aid. If comprehending how the formulas work which allow districts to receive state aid is enough of a challenge, readers also learned that the state was adding insult to financial injury by sending extra money to charters by calculating the amount of local support in the charter aid formula. This calculation method further assists charters by using the local share amount (viz., local property taxes raised by the district for its schools) in the formula to determine charter payments at the expense of public education.
How novel: starve public schools of state funds for years but use local support dollars to calculate the level of state charter payments. So much for local control.
Let’s get back to that word Byzantine again. Consider this one example of how state school aid works.
“When a student living in the Columbus district attends a charter school, the state subtracts nearly $7,800 on average from the district’s state funding. But the state is giving Columbus only an average of about $3,900 in basic aid per pupil,” the Dispatch’s Jim Siegel reported. “Once charter-school money is subtracted, the district gets just $2,604 for each student who is left, a $1,312 loss that is also, by far, the highest in the state,” he explained.
As we’ve read before on these pages, voodoo public policy begets voodoo economics which begets voodoo accounting. In the Dispatch story, Sen. Peggy Lehner, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, confirmed the perfidious nature of state school aid when it comes to charters. “It’s kind of a shell game with the money,” she said. “It’s state dollars, but you have to use local dollars to backfill the state dollars. I think it’s pretty clear that these kids are getting local dollars.”
School boards and voters are starting to catch on to the shell game that causes the dollars to flow out of their public schools and into the coffers of privately managed charter schools.
The situation is bringing financial distress to many districts, which explains why dozens of districts have invoiced the state for the money they have lost to charters.
Scam. Voodoo public policy. Shell game.
How long will the voters of Ohio stand for this financial undermining of the public schools that educate more than 90% of the state’s children?