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The Final Answer?

You have a child. You want the best for him or her. You want your child to be healthy, wealthy and wise. The first you may not have much control over. But the last two you do. You can make sure your child gets a good education.

In the United States education is considered a birthright and every child has access to a public education. But does that lead to wisdom and a lot of financial success? In other words, just how good is that education?

FROM THE BEGINNING

In 1997 a young man from the rural county of Perry named Nathan DeRolph stirred things up in Ohio when he sued the state claiming the quality of education depended on where you lived. He contended that the more affluent counties offered a better quality of schools than those in poorer areas. He got his point across and won his lawsuit.

However, the DeRolph case hasn’t had a fairy tale ending, because since then the state has been going around in circles trying to come up with a plan to rectify that discrepancy.

CHANGES PROMISED

When Ted Strickland started campaigning for governor, education was part of his platform. He met his campaign promise recently when he offered his proposal to revamp the funding for Ohio’s public schools, pledging $925 million of new money into the state school system over the next biennium.

However, what he has proposed has as many disturbed as relieved.

“Right now everybody is in shock and awe. They weren’t expecting the recommendations they received,” Ironton City Schools Superintendent Dean Nance said.

What has Nance concerned is that in the initial spreadsheet of allocations from the governor’s proposal Nance’s district like four others in Lawrence County aren’t scheduled to get any funding the first year. And in fiscal year 2010 the city district will take a two percent cut.

The only districts that appear to get funding are the Chesapeake district receiving a 15 percent increase the first year and an 8 percent increase in 2010; and Dawson-Bryant that will get a 7 percent increase the first year and 3 percent the next.

“We are the only state that has ever had a lawsuit that was found in our favor and it was determined that the way Ohio funds its public schools is unconstitutional. … The only thing that has come from that lawsuit is they took the tobacco settlement and put together the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission … to enable them to build some schools that were falling down around them.

“It doesn’t take long for me to scan through this — this new formula is set up to help the larger inner city districts,” Nance said. “Certain districts will benefit and certain will not.”

One of the governor’s proposals is to increase the school year by two days a year over the next 10 years.

“I think having more contact time is a better thing, but I don’t think those teachers want to work for free,” Nance said. “You can see my budget has zero percent increase (the first year) and a 2 percent decrease (the next). … He is proposing lead teachers, building managers and positions are to be added to your staff, which is going to be impossible to do.”

STARTING POINT

Thomas Ash is the director of legislative relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrations. He sees the original allocation spreadsheet as more of a starting point for discussion, not figures written in stone.

“It is not the final allocation. I think there will be a bill introduced in the next month,” Ash said. “I think the parameters will change. I expect a number of changes in the amount of money districts will receive as opposed to what is on the spreadsheet. I think the governor’s office is sensitive to the number of districts receiving no increases and will be working to make adjustments to that formula.”

The governor’s plan is what is called an “evidence-based model,” as opposed to a “spending model,” Ash says.

“In other words what that says is if districts spend their money for these things, there is based on the research, a likelihood it will improve student performance,” Ash said. “I tend to call it an expectation model. These aren’t things you have to do today. There is an expectation the district will work toward those things. I think it is better than what we have now, which is a confusing mixture of the number of students you have and your local ability to tax. Instead the focus becomes on delivery of instruction.”

The governor’s plan removes what is called “phantom revenue,” Ash says. That is where the state assumes all districts are getting the 23 mil current expense operating levy.

“In fact many districts are receiving only 20 mil. That 3 mil difference charge off is what is called phantom revenue,” he said. “It is money the state assumes the district is receiving, but it is not.

“By moving the assumption from 23 to 20 mil, which is what many districts are receiving, those districts that appear to be receiving more money, much of that comes from the change in the charge off.”

Under the old formula there were what Ash calls Band-aids in the funding formula to attempt to even out the disparity in wealth. There are almost 400 of these Band-aids in a state that has 613 school districts.

“Some (districts) had more than one band-aid,” Ash said. “This is probably the primary evidence that the old formula doesn’t work. So the idea is to get rid of the band-aids and create a formula that will work for all the districts over time.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Dr. James Payne, superintendent of the Lawrence County Educational Service Center, understands why some administrators feel uneasy.

“I think the devil is in the details,” Payne said. “I think we really don’t know enough about it. That is why we are trying to get as much information from our representatives.

“The districts in our area have a right to be concerned because in the simulation it didn’t fare well for Lawrence County schools in general. Anytime in rural Ohio and low wealth areas, I think that is where the state is going to have to review the intricacy of the model. I think it is a better process, but there are gaps in this process.”

However, if the funding model doesn’t reach out to those rural, low wealth districts, there may be superintendents who would join Nance in his view about the next couple of years.

“You don’t have any choice but to cope with it,” Nance said. “If I have less income to run the district, I will simply have to operate with fewer teachers.”