Kasich advisers can’t explain cuts to poor school districts

Gov. John Kasich’s top education advisers, Dick Ross, and Barbara Mattei-Smith, have recently explained that part of the reason poor school districts get smaller increases than wealthier ones has been that poor districts are seeing huge increases in their property wealth and are losing pupils.

“Barbara Mattei-Smith told the Dispatch Friday that since 2009 in rural areas “land values are increasing and taxation has updated agricultural values on property.” She also said that many suburban districts that would receive more money under Kasich’s plan have seen substantial increases in enrollment, which affects their funding under the new plan.” — Athens Messenger, Feb. 10, 2013

“Kasich education policy advisor Barbara Mattei-Smith said that’s because school districts that many people think of as “poor” are not actually poor for the purposes of determining state funding under the Kasich plan. In recent years, property values in rural Ohio rose while property values in cities and suburbs fell. And, at the same time, rural and urban districts lost students, while suburban districts grew, Mattei-Smith said.” — State Impact News Feb. 6, 2013

However, neither of these explanations actually pan out. One need look no further than Northern Local in rural Perry County — the district, ironically, where the DeRolph school funding lawsuit originated.
Under Kasich’s plan, Northern Local gets 40% of its state funding in the form of a “guarantee” to keep their funding levels at least as high as in past years. The Governor has promised to eliminate those guarantee funds sooner rather than later, meaning that Northern Local is looking at a $4.1 million cut in state aid very soon.

Did this happen because the district is seeing increasing property values and declining student populations as suggested by the Kasich team? Not exactly.

The district’s per pupil property valuation rose by 36% between 2006 and 2011, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation. But the  district remains property poor. In fact, it raises 10 times less per mill of property tax than Olentangy schools, whose state funding increases by 433% in the two-year budget.

Meanwhile, Northern Local’s enrollment dropped by under 1% (50 kids) between 2007 and 2012.

So Kasich’s plan effectively will cut Northern Local by 40%, even though they have the same number of kids and raise 10 times less than a districts that does well under Kasich’s plan.

It’s not just Northern Local. Among all Ohio school districts that lost population (461 when comparing 2007 to 2012) and who are flat-funded and on the guarantee lost an average of 7% of their population. Yet the guarantee makes up, on average, 19% of their state funding. So the State’s going to wipe out about one out of every 5 dollars of state revenue in these districts, on average. All because they lost 7% of their kids. Seems fair, right?

This goes to show that the reason poor districts are being put on the guarantee has nothing to do with property values or pupil losses; it’s because the Kasich plan drops the amount the state says kids need to succeed from $5,732 per pupil to $5,000 per pupil — a drop that disproportionately hurts poorer districts that are dependent upon state resources.

Districts like Northern Local.

Until the Administration and others realize that the problem is an inadequate foundation amount, not dwindling numbers of kids or exploding local valuations, it is difficult to imagine a long-term fix to this formula’s inherently inadequate distribution of state resources to our children.