Almost 30 years ago, Ohio’s system of funding “a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state” as required in the state constitution was called into question through the DeRolph case, which took five years to make it through the court system to an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that the state failed to provide such a system. Since that time, the state has focused primarily on school facilities, pumping $12 billion into school renovation and construction. Only in the last two years has an intentional effort been undertaken to address the ways schools are funded: this is a moment in time for a concerted, unprecedented effort to invest in the future of Ohio’s children through making new investments, addressing disparities that exist for racial and income groups and assuring predictable revenue for years to come.
Philanthropy Ohio and many of its members are calling upon the Ohio Senate to do just that as part of this year’s biennium budget deliberations that are in the final days: the budget must be adopted by June 30 and the Ohio House has passed its version.
The following is the testimony we submitted May 17 to the Senate Finance Committee, laying out our key principles and asks related to school funding.
Philanthropy Ohio strongly believes that adequacy, predictability and equity must anchor any new school funding plan. Since its creation in 2006, Philanthropy Ohio’s Education Initiative has asserted that every child – regardless of ZIP code, gender or race – deserves an education that leads to successful employment in the 21st century economy. In our seminal 2006 report, Education for Ohio, we called for the state to fundamentally redesign the K–12 education funding system so that schools and districts have equitable, stable and predictable revenues.
While we acknowledge and appreciate that some progress has been made in the last decade, events of the past year have revealed the extent to which inequality still exists in Ohio’s public K-12 schools. 2021 is the time to move forward, establishing a school funding plan that will mean the difference between a just and prosperous Ohio or one that moves backward while other states move ahead. If not now, when? Ohio must create a school funding plan that works for all Ohio students. Today, we ask you to make significant new investments to meet the needs of students and to close the disparities in student outcomes. We make this ask based on compelling data:
- 24% of Ohio students with low incomes do not graduate in four years, compared to 7% of their non-disadvantaged peers;
- 22% of Ohio Black students were chronically absent compared to 15% of Hispanic students and 8% of white students; and
- 27% of Hispanic and 27.5% of Black Ohioans ages 25-64 have at least an associate degree compared to 40.8% of white Ohioans.
A laser focus on equity of funding can address racial and economic disparities and level the playing field so that all students have better education outcomes. Increased investments and a focus on equity also will help to achieve Ohio’s education five-year strategic plan, Each Child Our Future, which holds equity as one of three core principles. This shared plan that ensures “each student is challenged, prepared and empowered for his or her future by way of an excellent prekindergarten through grade 12 education” is the result of extensive work by more than 150 partners – including Philanthropy Ohio – and about 1,200 citizens who attended one of 13 regional meetings held across the state to develop and review the plan: it is truly a plan built by Ohioans for Ohio students. Its focus on the whole child, four equal learning domains and 10 priority strategies means that each child’s physical, social, emotional and intellectual needs are met. An equitable system means that each student has access to the appropriate supports in all four domains, with additional supports provided to those historically marginalized in an intentional effort to level the playing field.
Money matters. Research shows that the amount schools spend per pupil contributes to student success – or lack thereof. One study reports that “While we find small effects for children from affluent families, for low-income children, a 10% increase in per pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school is associated with 0.43 additional years of completed education, 9.5% higher earnings, and a 6.8 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty. In fact, a 25% increase over all school age years is sufficiently large to eliminate the attainment gaps between children from low- and high-income families.” For example, for the Pleasant District in Marion County – the schools that spend the least per pupil in the state – a 25% increase of $2,024 to $10,121 would result in nearly half a year of additional completed schooling.
Studies support the notion that providing adequate funding – especially for disadvantaged children – is critical to improving student success. What remains unknown: what constitutes adequate and equitable funding? Although we do not have a specific number of what it costs, we do know from research that it is significantly more than we currently invest. If we are serious about addressing equity and preparing every student to be successful in the workforce, in life and as citizens then we have to invest. And, investing now can save money in the future as better student outcomes result in better-paying jobs and, in turn, reducing reliance on entitlement benefits like Medicaid, SNAP and housing as well as unemployment and incarceration costs.
Philanthropy Ohio applauds the General Assembly leadership for prioritizing the need to revise the way the state funds K-12 education. We believe that more funding is needed to adequately support Ohio students in order to eliminate the racial and socioeconomic disparities, meet the needs of students who are disadvantaged, have special needs and live in rural districts. It is reasonable to expect that additional funding leads to better outcomes – while recognizing that such progress is long-term – and that local decision making about how such outcomes are achieved should be affirmed. It is also reasonable to expect all public schools to report regularly to all stakeholders on the progress they are making.
Philanthropy Ohio believes that our school funding system should be:
- Robust: the state must invest significantly more dollars to assure all students have access to the opportunities and tools they need to succeed.
- Equitable: equity must be front and center as a goal of any new funding plan.
- Predictable: the new funding plan should be sustainable over time, assuring predictability to effect long-term progress.
- Data-driven: the new funding plan should define what it costs to educate students with different learning needs and assure funding is adequate to cover those costs.
- Transparent: the plan and how it will be implemented should be clear and available to all stakeholders.
- Student-centered: newly allocated dollars should be used to improve student outcomes, eliminate disparities and increase success for students who are underserved or disadvantaged.
- Results-focused: All schools must report on progress made over time.
Based on these principles, we urge you to:
- Make significant investments in K-12 education, particularly for students of color, those living in low-income households or rural areas and those with other needs. We know the issue of how to fund the plan is challenging and the role of the legislature is to balance numerous, critical needs through careful expenditures that can be sustained over the long term.
- Support the direct funding to districts, community and STEM schools with its base cost formula.
- Prioritize the full funding of categorical assistance and not to phase it in over time. We believe that funds that support students living in disadvantaged circumstances, have special needs, are English language learners and rural district residents can address disparities in access and opportunity. While we applaud the increase from the current $272 per student allocation for such students to $422 we question whether this is a sufficient amount as research indicates that the same increase for different groups of learners and at different ages is neither the best nor equitable approach.
- Create a commission to study what it costs to educate those needing categorical assistance, with a study completed by December 2021 and including actionable recommendations for priorities and funding levels.
- Assure that funding is flexible enough for local decision making and to accommodate multiple learning instructional models and programs.
- Provide a reporting mechanism where the Ohio Department of Education collects, analyzes and releases information on the impacts that significant new investments make over time.
Increasing FAFSA Completion
We appreciate the Senate’s concern for helping increase the post-secondary attainment rate in Ohio, increasing the number of young adults who continue their training and education after high school. One critical step to increasing attainment that will prepare Ohioans to enter the 21st century work force is securing funding for education and training – we know that cost is a significant barrier for many. Receiving federal aid to continue after high school can only be accomplished through first completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA. It’s the key to federal student financial aid (Pell Grants) and it’s also used to determine eligibility for Ohio College Opportunity Grants (OCOG) as well as grants from private colleges and universities. Completing FAFSA is a critical first step for students seeking help in funding their post-secondary education and training, not only for traditional college degrees but also for certificates and credentials.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly led to a marked decrease in FAFSA completion: compared to March 2020, Ohio’s completion rate is down 9%, similar to the national rate. And, many of our community foundations are reporting that scholarship applications – an important source of post-secondary education funding – are down anywhere from 10% – 25%. These figures support the need for a strong, direct approach for increasing Ohio student FAFSA rates. By reversing the downward trend of FAFSA completion, more than $83 million dollars in federal student aid left on the table will go to students – both traditional and non-traditional – who need it the most, which in turn could increase Ohio’s post-secondary enrollment rates for students to attain the necessary degrees and credentials needed to meet the workforce demands of the future.
We ask you to:
- Require FAFSA completion for graduation, with a general exemption parents can submit without impacting the student’s graduation and no sooner than the 2022-23 academic year.
- Appropriate $1 million in each fiscal year to educational service centers to deliver professional development opportunities and support for high school counselors to improve preparation on topics related to college and career readiness.
We will continue our work alongside the Senate to together forge an education system so that all Ohio students can have equitable access to resources that will lead to successful careers and contribute to Ohio’s robust economic future.
Our policy briefs on school funding and FAFSA are available online and we urge you to contact your state senator with your thoughts and perspectives, gleaned from your own work with your local schools and districts.
Claudia Y. W. Herrold
Chief Communications & Public Policy Officer