Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.
Katie Olmsted 0:15
Welcome back to Education Matters. I'm Katie Olmsted, and I'm part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association and the 120,000 educators OEA represents statewide. Ohio's educators are really able to give us the so called "boots on the ground" perspective about what's happening in the schools and their neighborhoods. But there's also a lot of value in getting that 50,000 foot perspective so we can take a look at the trends and really get a handle on the data across the state - and use that data to advocate for what our students need. A prime example is on the topic of education funding. OEA members have been using their own experiences and the big picture stats to advocate for the implementation of the Fair School Funding Plan, both getting it initially included in the budget in the last General Assembly, and now as we continue to work to get the updated plan funded for our kids. Just last week, we got word that the latest House version of the state budget does that. The budget bill that came out of the House Finance Committee uses the latest data -- figures from 2022 -- for the cost side of the formula, and it continues to ramp up funding through the end of this biennium, among other really big wins for education in Ohio. Our students need the state Senate to do the right thing on these issues, too. Obviously, there's still a lot of work to do to get the Fair School Funding Plan across the finish line to make sure our schools are fairly funded for years to come. But this really illustrates just how important it is to have a firm grasp on the numbers. And that's something Policy Matters Ohio works on day in and day out. The nonprofit nonpartisan think tank is always putting out updated research and reports to help everyone understand the issues in our state. Dr. Tanisha Pruitt is a State Policy Fellow for Policy Matters Ohio, and she's the author of the recently released research report "Funding Ohio's Future," which digs into K-12 funding numbers. She joins us now to talk through several research projects she's been working on.
Katie Olmsted 2:28
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about all of the different research you're doing right now. We have so much to get to, but I want to talk about, first, the report that just dropped, the one where you looked at K-12 funding. What are the big headlines that came out of that one?
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 2:51
We kind of just highlight where Ohio currently stands when it comes to education and where we currently stand, what we know is that Ohio is currently ranked near the bottom, we are 46th in the nation when it comes to equitable distribution of funding. Right? This is ridiculous. And so what we know is that we need to get Ohio up in the rankings so that Ohio can truly be the best state to educate a child.
Katie Olmsted 3:23
So it's not necessarily looking at the whole size of the pool of funding, but it's looking at whether those systems we have in place make it so that the funding is distributed fairly. We have the haves and the have nots in Ohio, something we've been dealing with for decades under an unconstitutional school funding system. Right?
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 3:42
Katie Olmsted 3:43
So that's one part of this. What else have you found?
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 3:46
Yes, so what we also found is that, you know, the budget that was proposed by Governor DeWine, it would shrink the total biennium investment in K through 12. Education from $30.54 billion to $28.69 billion, which is about a 16% reduction in funding. And this is over a total budget allocation, not just like our funding formula or anything like that. This is just total education budget. So what we've, what we've seen is that then it's gone down, especially when you adjust for inflation, over the over the years, right and in this proposed budget, it would continue to go down even more. Similar with foundation funding, which funds our Fair School Funding Plan. You know, most of our funding going to district comes out of ourfoundation funding. And so Governor DeWine's proposal would remain nearly 3% below spending in the fiscal year 2020-2021 biennium.
Katie Olmsted 4:47
So that's not a done deal. That's those are part of the negotiations that are still happening in the General Assembly. Thank goodness. What is the big takeaway way you would want lawmakers to have from this report as they're having those discussions?
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 5:05
Yeah. So what you know, primarily, the main takeaway will be there's certain threats, right, that we highlighted in the report that are continuously like impacting right our ability to fully and equitably fund our schools and move us up in some of those ranks. And the first one being, you know, there's still this year after year piecemeal approach to the Fair School Funding Plan. There's still, you know, only every two years we're phasing it in instead of just outright funding it. And Ohio, you know, we have the resources to be able to fully fund the Fair School Funding Plan right now. We need to commit to public schools, and provide the funding that students need and deserve in schools in order to thrive. We also need to fight against, you know, these tax proposals that are sort of coming through. So as we're looking through, like House Bill 1, the flat tax, right, that could be a loss in about $583 million in revenue towards public schools, if that were to pass. We also have to fight against vouchers, right? Voucher expansion. Not saying that vouchers are a bad thing, not saying people should not have choice. But when we see that both of the proposals would be close to a billion dollars, and, you know, as a potential $1 billion loss to public schools, we're saying, you know, you're, the legislator has no problem committing all this funding towards vouchers and private education, while at the same time, the commitment to public schools is decreasing when you adjust for inflation. So it's like we're, we're it throughout the report, we're wanting legislators and the public, everyone to be aware, like, look at where our priorities are lying in terms of how we educate our students in our schools and look at where we are, right? Like, our priorities are a direct reflection of our ranking and where we stand. So you know, we need to - lawmakers should really dedicate the funds needed now to really fully fund the Fair School Funding Plan, you know, kind of make sure that we are having a fair tax structure, that we are not over committing right funding to private schools and vouchers, and that we come to, you know, really just come together and that we live up to the promise of the Fair School Funding Plan in the next biennium and beyond.
Katie Olmsted 7:19
And I know that voucher piece, specifically, you're working outside of the K-12 funding report that just came out, there's an entire separate piece of research that you're doing on that one. It's forthcoming still, but are you able to give me a preview of some of the big things that you're finding? Anything in there really surprise you?
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 7:40
There's - I mean, there's so much. It's just, when you look at the numbers, right, we look at how, like I said, for like, for example, in House Bill 11, which will be more of the universal sort of voucher approach, right? So that's where it would do away with the EdChoice flagship program, like that performance-based program, it would do away with the Cleveland Scholarship, which is like our first scholarship program in the state. And it would essentially give access to anyone a voucher, right? Like eligibility, all of those guidelines that were typically in place before, pretty much out the window. All eligible K through 12, students pretty much are can receive a voucher. You know, in Governor DeWine's proposal, he proposed that the income threshold be moved to 400% of federal poverty level for a family of four. And now, you know, with the new House sub bill that just recently came out, we're seeing that they're even proposing to move that up to 450% of the federal poverty level, which means that, you know, any income any person, honestly, can get a voucher. And what we see is that most people that have vouchers, that, you know, current private school students that can already afford to go to these schools and you know, don't necessarily need the financial assistance, they are the ones that are getting the vouchers the most. They're the ones that are taking in the vouchers the most. And so it's really going to impact a lot of our low income students who these vouchers were originally meant for and are Black and brown, you know, these marginalized students. It's going to have an impact on them because more and more people that don't need it are taking those vouchers. So it's like, there's just a lot of discrepancies. There's a lot of disparities. What we know that, you know, in private schools, academically, you know, they don't necessarily perform better, graduation rates are lower, right, in many of the different schools. And so it's like, why are we dedicating all of this money, when it doesn't necessarily mean that they will result in better academic outcomes? And the money is just going towards people who can already afford to go to these schools?
Katie Olmsted 9:55
Right. I mean, let's be real. The vouchers, the vast majority of families, even with the vouchers wouldn't be able to afford the private school tuition. So these vouchers are really just propping up the already wealthy families who already decided to send their kids to private school and letting them keep more of their money.
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 10:13
Katie Olmsted 10:14
And it's leaving public schools behind. That money comes from a single source in our state budget, so any money that goes towards vouchers comes out of the funding that's available for public schools. And I, I get frustrated because I think so many people aren't connecting the dots there. They're not seeing why it can't be all of the things for everybody. There's just, it's just not a possibility. And that's, I think, one of the reasons why I appreciate your research so much, having fact-based reports here, where we can see the numbers in black and white, I think really helps us understand the issues. Is that one of the big drivers for you, as you're doing these reports?
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 10:56
Yes, it's just like really - because me, I'm all about like looking at, you know, making sure the money that we're allocating, right, making sure it makes sense and making sure that we are really investing in what students most need and deserve in schools, right, to really just make us a better state for education to really just improve outcomes for all students, regardless of you know, what they look like, what zip code they live in, so that they all can thrive. And so when you see a lot of these proposals coming in, you know, especially for vouchers and different things like that, where it's just this huge flux of money, this massive price tag, it just, it makes me, you know, disheartened, because I'm like, where are the priorities, right? Like, where are - because like, for example, in the last state budget, state aid to Akron City Schools was close to about $8,000 per pupil, right, which was less than the per pupil state aid for students to take vouchers to at least privately run charter schools, which was about $9,000. So when you see things like that, you see that state aid, and that's happening across the state, right? Like Mohawk Local School District, they also reported receiving more per pupil for vouchers than they do from the state for the students. They don't even receive the per pupil amount that they necessarily need to truly educate all of their students in their districts. So what happens is when, you know, they don't receive enough money from the state, that causes more of a financial burden on districts to have to make up that shortfall at the local level. So it's like, when you know, so if we don't like sort of fix these sorts of things, and we don't, you know, make it up where the districts get what they need from the state, it's gonna cause some of that like unevenness again, where it's like the state and local share will be unbalanced, right? Because it's like the locals are going to have to rely more on property taxes and different things like that, which is the whole reason the Fair School Funding Plan came into place was to eliminate that, you know. The state was supposed to pick up most of the share, but with a lot of these different proposals and things that's happening, that's starting to sort of shift again.
Katie Olmsted 13:07
And the whole reason the Fair School Funding Plan was needed was because that overreliance on local property taxes is unconstitutional. And it's been found unconstitutional four different times.
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 13:17
Katie Olmsted 13:22
I want to segue to another piece of research that you are working on, because I think it's so important, and really an interesting topic that you're diving into. And that's talking about the school attendance and school safety situation in Ohio. What can we expect when we see that report drop?
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 13:42
Yes. So that report kind of lays, you know, we're talking about because what we know is that chronic absenteeism was on the rise. I mean, it was before the pandemic hit, but especially, you know, it was exasperated, once the pandemic took a shift. And so what we know in Ohio is that, you know, in the last school year, it increased from - it was 16.7%, before 2020, and then going into 2020-2021, that went up to 24%. And then when you look at last school year, the 2021-2022 school year, that has gone up to 30%, which is a huge, you know, percentage in terms of the amount of students that have missed school, or were, you know, missing from school. And so when you even break that down by race, we saw that 50% of Black students in Ohio were chronically absent, or 40% of, you know, Latin X students were chronically absent compared to 24% of white students, which that's still a high number, even 24%. You know, like, these numbers are still too high across the board. But what you really see is that Black and brown students, you know, were by far, you know, chronically absent. They missed more school than any other group. And so what we're saying is like, you know what, we're trying to figure out why that was, right? What was kind of going on. We also saw that urban districts and rural districts sort of, you know, experienced higher levels of absenteeism compared to some other districts. Although when you look at suburban districts in the greater Columbus area, some of those school districts actually saw the largest increases in chronic absenteeism, compared to even some of our urban districts. So when you look at Westerville City Schools, for example, they experienced one of the highest spikes and chronic absenteeism in the state last year. It rose from 9.6% in the 2020-2021 school year to 21.7% in last school year.
Katie Olmsted 15:45
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 15:47
Right? And so it's like, what, you know,
Katie Olmsted 15:50
what's going on?
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 15:51
Exactly. What is going on? And how can we get students back into the classroom? And obviously, you know, since the since we've been back in classes, those numbers I expect, when we get our report cards for next year, you know, some of those numbers might have changed. But still just coming out of this being from the last school year, that is still a high, high rise. And so what we're saying is we're trying to figure out what's going on, how can we get students back in school? And also, then, you know, let's add school discipline, right. So what we know is that during the last school year, 5000 of Ohio kids were expelled, close to 200,000 were removed from school from out of school suspensions. 100,000 received in school suspensions, and 95 are removed from school by a police officer. These are high numbers, high rates of discipline, right? And we know that in Ohio, Black and brown students are typically over represented in these exclusionary discipline infractions. So when you look at, you know, ACLU of Ohio, they had a report, and they found that in Columbus, Black students are 2.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled. And then when you look at Cincinnati, that rate almost doubles. Black students are five times more likely to receive a suspension or expulsion, and referrals to law enforcement. So we're just seeing across the state, right, like huge, huge levels of discipline occurring in our schools. And this negatively impacts academic outcomes and keep students out of the classroom. It can funnel them into the, you know, justice system, and it can just have negative outcomes, particularly among Black and brown students. You know, in a recent report that the Children's Defense Fund of Ohio found that in Ohio, Black girls receive seven times more out of school suspensions compared to white girls. So even when you look at differences among gender, we are seeing that, you know, they are receiving higher rates of discipline, while at the same time not necessarily having higher rates of misbehavior.
Katie Olmsted 18:00
So that's the that's the key in this one, I think we really need to talk about. Anecdotally, we've been hearing from educators around the state that coming out of the pandemic, to quote one, 'it seems like the kids have gone feral.' There are a lot of behavior issues in schools right now. Kids seem to - not all kids, obviously - but there seems to be some kids who sort of lost the skill set required to function in a school setting and, you know, sit in your desk and not be disruptive and all of the things that you're kind of conditioned to do over the years of sitting in a classroom. We're not saying that, that is not something that needs to be addressed. But I think the the numbers from this report really are highlighting that when - that we need to be making sure that when we are meting out discipline, that it is fair, that it is actually constructive and not perpetuating these growing problems it seems we're having.
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 19:07
Definitely, yes. We need more culturally informed practices in schools, right, more restorative justice practices, things that you know, we can discipline - we can get to the root of why a child may be misbehaving, right, because we know that children, most children, not most but some children come to school, right experiencing housing and food insecurity, right? We know that even it's coming from different all not all children are alike. They're coming from different backgrounds. So there may be reasons as to why they're they may be hungry, or they may, you know, be experiencing negative home environments. And it's like that's coming out in school. So that's why we need more school counselors, school psychologists, right, in schools, to really be able to give students the mental health services they need to give them more of a well-rounded, positive school environment for what they need. And that's why we're also saying to piggyback off of that is that, you know, in the proposed budget, there's a line item for school resource officers to the tune of about $388 million. And this is a massive price tag when, one, we're not saying that school resource officers are bad or that they should not be in schools, but what we're saying is that this is a massive price tag when one, there is a lack of accountability and data gaps in Ohio when it comes to school resource officers. Like we don't know what schools they're in, we don't know how many there are across the state. You know, last year, I believe, or in 2021, there were estimates that about 70% of Ohio school districts had a school resource officers, but we didn't know which districts or where they were. There's also no, they don't have to also report in a typical fashion, their incidences. So it's like, we don't know what it is, you know, what they're doing if they're, if they are harming the child, like we don't know what that looks like. We don't know how often that happens. There's just no reporting system. So we need to make sure that along with providing more mental health supports in schools, we're saying that funding could be used, you know, better for like mental health support. Schools can hire counselors. It should be left up to local districts to be able to decide what's really best for their schools, instead of just saying this money is for school resource officers. And what we're hearing is that that in the House sub bill, that line item is being scrapped. It's not in there, but it may show up again in the Senate when they do their portion. And so it's still something to kind of look out for in terms of making sure that funding is used in the best way possible to really support the child.
Katie Olmsted 21:42
Yeah, so much to be looking out for, especially armed with the information that we have from the K-12 funding report that just came out. Dr. Pruitt, thank you so much for sharing all of your insights.
Dr. Tanisha Pruitt 21:56
No problem. Thank you.
Katie Olmsted 22:00
You can find the link to the new Policy Matters Ohio K-12 funding report in the show notes for this episode, and keep an eye on the Policy Matters website for Dr. Pruitt's other research reports as they come out. New episodes of Education Matters come out every Thursday morning. Until next time, stay well.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai