A student’s value

One of the key tenets of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s “Achievement Everywhere” school funding proposal is that money follows the student.

But how much money is following a student depends on multiple factors.

Under the bridge formula enacted on Kasich’s watch two years ago while the new school funding model was being developed, about $5,700, on average, was deducted from a district’s funding and went with a student who attended another public school district via open enrollment or enrolled in a charter or online school. That was based in part on the minimum $5,732 per-student funding amount under the model introduced by Kasich’s predecessor, Gov. Ted Strickland.

While the new proposal unveiled by Kasich earlier this year and now being considered by the General Assembly doesn’t specifically set a minimum amount of funding per student, it essentially guarantees at least $5,000 per student in base funding.

That’s the base number for money that follows a student to a charter school under Kasich’s plan. The number for open enrollment is $5,704.

Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said he couldn’t speak to the rationale of either number, but it would make sense to him for them to be the same amounts. He also noted the actual numbers could vary by student and district.

“It’s quite possible that the amount of money the community school student’s getting might be more than the $5,704,” he said.

Community, or charter, schools – including the online schools in which a growing number of Washington County students are enrolling – would receive additional funds based on special education needs, whether the student is learning English as a second language, economically disadvantaged status, gifted funding and money for students who do not have access to early childhood programs, according to Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.

Nichols said $5,704 is what currently follows students in open enrollment. The governor’s plan proposes using that same number for the next two years while the best way to allocate money based on open enrollment is explored further.

“We felt the best approach was to continue the current funding amounts for this budget and have conversations with districts from both sides of the equation (open enrollment into the district and open enrollment out of the district) to determine the best way to fund this choice option in the future,” he said in an email to The Marietta Times.

In addition, schools could receive additional special education funding if the amount needed to serve an open enrollment student would exceed $5,704.

State or local?

Of more concern to some school officials than the disparity between the open enrollment and charter school amounts is the idea that not all of the money following students in either situation comes from the state.

The base funding amount – previously $5,732 and $5,000 under the new plan – is how much the state ensures each district has per student. But how much state money is needed to make that happen depends on how much money the district generates through its own taxes. In other words, if a district on its own can provide $3,000 per student, the state would only need to kick in $2,000 to meet the $5,000 threshold.

“Whether the district has $5,700 or $5,000 deducted for open enrollment and charter schools, Belpre only receives approximately $2,350 per student (currently)from the state,” Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn said. “The rest that is sent to the other districts … is local funds. It is worse for those districts that receive less state aid than we do.

“It would be much better for communities to have the deduction that is only state money instead of a static amount that the state says they fund,” he said.

The debate over local money following students precedes the newest funding proposal.

“I know of no district in the state of Ohio that receives the full $5,700” under the current system, Wolf Creek Local Schools Superintendent Bob Caldwell said.

And that wouldn’t change for districts like Wolf Creek under the new formula. If the school has an enrollment of 630 students (slightly below the current number) in the 2013-14 school year, $5,000 per student would equate to $3.15 million. But the district is in line to receive a little over $1.5 million.

Asbury said some make the argument that as long as the money deducted does not exceed the total amount provided by the state, local funds aren’t being used. But superintendents like Morgan Local Schools’ Lori Snyder-Lowe don’t see it that way.

“They understand in my community that if you vote for a levy in the Morgan Local school district, they expect that money to stay in the Morgan Local school district,” she said.

Nichols said students who take advantage of school choice options like charter schools are still factored in when determining a district’s starting funding

“The state aid is higher because the community school and other choice students are counted in the district’s total,” he said. “In other words, a district receives more funds for every economically disadvantaged student even when that student is attending a community school. So it is appropriate to have the state aid provided to a district follow the student when they leave the district.”

If community school students were removed from the equation, it could reduce the amount of state aid a district receives, Nichols said.