Traditional public schools getting triple the state cuts of charters

By Darrel Rowland and Randy Ludlow

May 15, 2020

Traditional public schools are getting cut at a rate more than three times as much as charter schools in budget reductions ordered by Gov. Mike DeWine.

The traditional districts saw their state allocation drop an average of 3.72%, compared to 1.03% for charter schools, which are taxpayer funded but generally privately run. The cuts cover the final months of the current state fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Why the difference?

“Community (charter) schools have no access to local sources of revenue and cannot levy property tax levies,” said Mandy Minick, press secretary for the Ohio Department of Education.

That explanation doesn’t sit well with some state lawmakers.

“Getting cut three times as much as charter schools is unacceptable. During these unprecedented times, we all need to shoulder the burden of the difficulties we are facing, not put more hardship on those already facing struggles,” said Rep. Phil Robinson of Solon, the top Democrat on the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee.

“This is part of an unfortunate trend of not supporting and maybe even undermining the efforts of hard working public schools teachers and staff. There is bipartisan opposition to these bad policies, but I fear that without leadership from both chambers and the governor on this, this trend will continue.”

Toledo’s Teresa Fedor, top Democratic on the Senate Education Committee, said the disparity continues an unfortunate trend in Ohio.

“Public schools will bear the brunt of these budget cuts while still providing meals to all children and other supports to families,” she said. We have no idea what the fall will look like, but it will likely include social distancing. This will not only make education in the classroom harder, but it will create additional busing issues.

“Charter schools are not even responsible for busing, so public schools must also factor in the cost of busing charter students while budgeting in these massive cuts.”

To determine how much to prune, the DeWine administration sorted the 600-plus traditional Ohio school districts into several categories, primarily based on their wealth. The declines in state foundation payments varied by category, with the richer districts getting larger percentage cuts and the poorer ones smaller.

The state cuts in opportunity grants for charter schools equaled those for the poorest category of traditional districts. In other words, the $89 per-pupil trims in Franklin County’s poorest districts, Whitehall and Hamilton Local, equaled the amount sliced from the charter school with the most affluent operator in Ohio.

Columbus schools lost $127 a pupil, while affluent districts like Dublin and Upper Arlington got lopped by more than $300 a student.

On average, the per-pupil allocation for traditional districts was lowered to $5,082. Charter school funding statewide fell to $8,563 a pupil.

The one bright spot for the traditional schools: The charter school cuts are being made by reducing the amount they get from traditional schools. That lowers the $300.5 million total state cuts for traditional schools by $9.5 million.

It’s important to note that the entire $300.5 million in K-12 cutbacks are being applied in just the final portion of the state fiscal year, which ends June 30. That means while funding for traditional schools was reduced by an annualized 3.72%, actual state payments to the districts will be slashed by four times that amount, or 15%.

Another rounds of school-funding cuts is thought likely for the new state fiscal year starting in July. Whether charter schools will get the same break in those reductions is not yet known, but would seem probable under state officials’ reasoning.

Of course, as with many agencies, schools’ expenses have gone down during the coronavirus, which shuttered education facilities across Ohio in mid-June. That alleviated the need for transportation subsidies from the state. And since standardized tests from the spring were canceled, those costs were saved as well.

While the big-budget areas of Medicaid and education (both higher and K-12) accounted for most of the $775 million in state cuts rolled out last week by DeWine, smaller agencies were hit as well. The public will directly feel some of those general revenue fund reductions, while others are being absorbed with little noticeable impact.

A sampling of the impact elsewhere:

Ohio Department of Transportation

While the vast majority of ODOT’s funding comes from fuel taxes, it receives a limited amount of general revenue fund dollars.

Its reductions principally consisted of slashing public transportation funds to local transit agencies for operational subsidies and capital improvements by nearly $3.2 million (5%) and cutting airport improvements by $3.1 million or nearly 50%.

The transit reductions were structured to avoid impacting state dollars used by local bus and transportation agencies to draw down matching federal grants, said ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning.

The impact of the loss of the state dollars would vary among transit agencies and airports, he said.

Ohio Department of Public Safety

Vacant job positions, accelerated by a DeWine-ordered hiring freeze, and less-than-projected spending, largely offset $3 million cuts by the agency that includes the State Highway Patrol, said spokeswoman Kirsten Castle.

The largest reductions affected the Investigative Unit, which polices alcohol, tobacco and food stamp laws, and the law enforcement component of RecoveryOhio, the multi-pronged state effort to reduce drug addiction, particularly to opioids.

The Investigative Unit sustained a $1.8 million or 10.5% cut of its annual budget, but unfilled job openings and less spending from forfeited funds resulted in no service reductions or job losses, Castle said.

RecoveryOhio received a near $1.5 million or 15% cut of its annual funding toward police drug-fighting efforts. Vacant positions, lower spending on an information-technology project and unawarded grant funds offset the cut, Castle said.

Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services

This combo agency shouldered $8.3 million in budget cuts, but officials say they were structured to avoid pulling back money from local agencies and dramatically reducing services, a spokesman said.

Funding for treatment and addiction services sustained a $2 million or 2% cut. Money for programs in connection with courts and jails received a $2.7 million or 16% reduction. A program treating addiction issues with inmates was reduced by $2.6 million or 10%.

The cuts largely consist of money not projected to be spent this fiscal year and funding for projects stalled by the pandemic or other issues, said spokesman Eric Wandersleben. But, they will “impact future planning and limit some of the new, innovative things we were planning to do.

“We know many Ohioans are struggling with a variety of mental health concerns, in addition to substance use as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. From day one, Gov. DeWine has made it clear that he understands the impact COVID-19 is having on individuals and families,” he said.

Governor’s office

“This ($50,000) reduction reflects savings achieved through cost containment measures including hiring, contract, and purchasing freezes that have been implemented since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said spokesman Dan Tierney.

Ohio Department of Youth Services

The system that incarcerates juvenile offenders incurred $6.2 million in budget cuts led by near $5.4 million or 3% reduction in RECLAIM Ohio funding to county juvenile courts and state and county youth correctional facilities.

No funding to local courts and juvenile facilities will be affected, with the cut offset by central office job openings left unfulfilled and maintenance and data projects that were delayed, said spokeswoman Jill Craig.

Ohio Public Defender

Tim Young’s office took a $6 million hit in reimbursements to county public defenders who represent indigent criminal offenders, or 20% of its remaining funding in the line item.

Young said the cut will result in an 85% lower reimbursement rate to county public defender offices during the last two months of the fiscal year. County and local offices will have to account for the difference.


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