timesgazette.com

Highland County schools’ funding levels lacking

Sarah Allen The Times-Gazette

November 22, 2013

While a new study shows that Highland County public schools receive lower levels of funding than many school districts throughout the state, the county’s superintendents said that doesn’t change what they do – they take what they get and meet their students’ needs.


The new “Apples to Apples” report, prepared by respected school-funding expert Dr. Howard B. Fleeter, analyzes and compares school district per-pupil spending based on each district’s specific mix of pupils, according to a press release.


Four of the county’s five public school district superintendents said a disparity exists between funding that would be ideal and funds that are actually received.


Bright Local superintendent Dee Wright did not return calls.


Lynchburg-Clay Superintendent Shane Shope said that studies such as this are not new. “It’s the same stuff we’ve been talking about for a number of years,” he said.


In relation to the government groups that must examine funding, he said, “It’s a tough job, trying to divvy up money.”


However, Shope added that, “You can’t argue with numbers.” The data compiled by the ETPI shows that the Lynchburg-Clay district, unweighted, spends $8,985 per student. With the original ODE weight of 0.1, however, that number drops to $7,291. Then, with the new weight of 0.3 by the ETPI, the amount becomes $6,853.


“Funding levels,” Shope said, “are lacking.”


And though Shope said lack of funding can be a challenge, he also said Lynchburg-Clay works to use its resources to the best advantage of the students.


“We take what we have,” Shope said, “like every district in the county, and try to be frugal and meet the needs of the kids.”


In the Fairfield Local district, superintendent Bill Garrett said that overall, most schools are receiving less funding than would be ideal. Regardless, Garrett, like Shope, said the district works to “spend money wisely.”


“We get a great bang for our buck,” Garrett said, “as far as education is concerned.”


As an example, Garrett said that Fairfield’s data shows educational success. “Look at the numbers and academic achievement per student,” he said. “It’s a great district.”


Though the ETPI study did show that Fairfield, like other district schools was, with the new weight, spending less per student, Garrett said he was unsure if that was accurate.


Unlike other local districts, he said, Fairfield’s rank in spending actually increased with the new study. With the ODE’s 0.1 weight, Fairfield ranked 441 in the state with per pupil spending. Then, with the ETPI’s 0.3 weight, Fairfield moved up to rank 438.


State ranks for other local schools were as follows:


• Bright Local: 263 (ODE weight), 518 (ETPI weight)


• Hillsboro: 464 (ODE weight), 354 (ETPI weight)


• Greenfield: 426 (ODE weight), 506 (ETPI weight)


• Lynchburg-Clay: 495 (ODE weight), 495 (ETPI weight)


In the Lynchburg-Clay district, the rank remained the same. According to Shope, giving students the best help possible “requires being creative with resources.”


Ultimately, Shope said, spending needs to be weighted properly.


The comparisons of unweighted and weighted data for other local schools are as follows:


• Bright Local - $10,156 (unweighted), $8,202 (ODE weighted), $7,362 (ETPI weighted)


• Fairfield Local - $8,461 (unweighted), $7,533 (ODE weighted), $7,082 (ETPI weighted)


• Hillsboro - $9,100 (unweighted), $7,458 (ODE weighted), $6,726 (ETPI weighted)


• Greenfield - $8,911 (unweighted), $7,565 (ODE weighted), $6,793 (ETPI weighted)


Greenfield Exempted Schools Superintendent Joe Wills also said that, based on these preliminary numbers, funds are “not evenly distributed based on economically disadvantaged students.”


This area, he said, does have more economically disadvantaged students than other parts of Ohio.


According to the ETPI study, the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in the Greenfield district was 56.59 percent.


Economically disadvantaged student population percentages for other county districts were as follows:


• Lynchburg-Clay: 45.20 percent


• Fairfield Local: 40.73 percent


• Bright Local: 59.06 percent


• Hillsboro: 57.67 percent


Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Rick Earley said that, in terms of funding, there is “not an equal distribution in the state of Ohio.” He said there are several factors that can effect the distribution but, regardless, Hillsboro City Schools take the students and “push them to do their best.”


“We get the kids’ best each and every day,” he said.


Earley also said that data can only show so much. “There are intangible things,” he said. “We have great kids and a great community.”


Ultimately, this study, local superintendents said, is something that can start conversations over how to better distribute funds among schools.


“I’ve seen studies like this before,” Shope said. “Sometimes, they make a splash.”


“Our hope,” Wills said, “is that it will generate some conversation at the state level.”


However, the study itself does not have an immediate effect on local schools.


“It’s great that they did the study,” Shope said, “but it doesn’t change what we do.”


Shope said that for there to be an impact on education there must be a “grassroots effort.”


“The state,” Wills said, “has been looking at the funding mechanism for years, and while this is another piece of looking at data, it would take more stakeholders for across-the-board change.”


Similarly, Garrett said that, when it comes to funding, he doubted the effects of this study would “sway that.”


“We continue to be flat-funded,” he said. “We’re still bellow where we were several years ago.”


Also as a part of the study, each district in the state of Ohio was assigned a typology code. Broken into categories one through eight, this typology is used to define not only the size of the district’s student population, but also that population’s overall socioeconomic status.


In Highland County, schools received one of three different codes: 1 (a rural district with average student poverty and a small student population), 2 (a rural district with average student poverty and a very small student population), and 4 (a small town district with high student poverty and small student population).


Local school districts were given the following codes:


• Hillsboro City Schools: 4


• Greenfield Exempted Schools: 1


• Bright Local Schools: 2


• Fairfield Local Schools: 1


• Lynchburg-Clay Local Schools: 2


According to Shope, “poverty is going to be the biggest indicator” that affects student performance.


“If a kid’s hungry,” he said, “that comes before learning.”


He said this is a challenge facing education on both a local and national level. “How do we fix poverty with our kids,” he said, “and is it enough?”


“Money,” he said, “does matter. It provides resources for kids.”


“If a school has financial backing,” Shope said, “achievement follows.”


In Greenfield, Wills said that if more funding was made available, there are several places where the money could be used.


“We are looking at upgrading to do the best we can to address student achievement,” he said.


Some areas where additional funding could be spent, according to Wills, include offering additional courses, expanding technology, and increasing blended learning in the classrooms.


In Leesburg, Garrett said there were “so any things” that additional funding could benefit, some of which included more intervention programs and enrichment activities for gifted students. Also, he said additional funds could help ensure that class sizes stay small for more individualized instruction.


And though money is a factor, Shope said that it is not the only thing that affects educational success.


“It has a lot to do with the entire community,” he said. According to Shope, involved parents and committed teachers are essential to student achievement.


“You do what’s best for the kids,” Shope said. “That’s what matters.”


The report examines students recognized as needing special education, having limited proficiency in English, and as being economically disadvantaged.


Three separate organizations commissioned the study through the Education Tax Policy Institute (ETPI). These organizations were the Ohio School Boards Association, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, and the Ohio Association of School Business Officials.


The Ohio Department of Education regularly provides the Fiscal Benchmarking Report, which primarily works to analyze district spending patterns so as to, according to the ODE website, “promote more effective and efficient use of resources.”


According to the press release, Fleeter said, “The Fiscal Benchmarking Report serves to more accurately compare spending patterns from one district to the next in a way that reflects differences among districts’ student populations.”


Fleeter, however, takes the analysis of the Fiscal Benchmarking Report deeper, focusing on the challenges different districts face with economically disadvantaged students.


This study primarily examined the Expenditure Per Equivalent Pupil (EEP) measurement in three different ways.


First, the EEP was examined as an unweighted measure. To arrive at this number, the total expenditure data was divided by the average daily membership in a school district.


Second, the EEP was weighted with the ODE’s current weight system, which is currently a base weight of 0.1.


Finally, the EEP was weighted using the weight determined by the ETPI’s study, which determined that a base weight of 0.1 is too low since national research showed that the poverty weight is usually at least 0.3 and higher for districts with high populations of economically disadvantaged students.


Using the 0.3 base weight, rather than the 0.1, the ETPI study adjusted the amount each district is spending per pupil (the EEP) to reflect that new weighted data.


By using the 0.3 as the base for average poverty, districts with roughly double the average poverty would have a weight of 0.6, and those with about half the average poverty would be 0.15.


This measure, according to the ETPI, more accurately shows how much is being spent on each student based on the theory that economically disadvantaged students require more money.


“The effectiveness of the economically disadvantaged pupil component,” Fleeter said in the press release, “will have a bearing on what districts have left to spend on typical students in the district. If under funded, districts with concentrations of poverty will not have the resources left over for the educational opportunities we want to see for all students.”