New Study Measures Ohio’s Progressive Yet Inadequate School Funding Gap

Jan. 22, 2019

Nationally, Ohio ranks 15th in per pupil spending. Even though Ohio does a better job than almost all other states in directing school funding to poor and minority students, a new study by researchers with The Ohio State University’s C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy shows there is still much to be done to achieve funding adequacy and equity across  school districts in Ohio. 

Led by Mark Partridge, Swank Chair and professor in the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences’ Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, the study recognizes the state’s progressive efforts to promote equal opportunities for all students. The in-depth policy paper uses maps and detailed visuals to paint the picture of widespread funding gaps across the state. It also identifies and displays funding shortfalls and offers policy suggestions that could level the playing field across districts in Ohio.

Bo Feng, Assistant Professor of Economics and Director of Center for Business and Economic Research at Marshall University, is a co-author of the study. He says research supports the premise that school performance is linked to funding adequacy but demographics, socioeconomic status and the percentage of minority students in the district are also at play.

Nationally, reforms in the school funding system at the start of the 21st century, coined the ‘adequacy era,’ focused on increasing spending for disadvantaged populations. This increased student performance but didn’t go far enough for them to be on par with advantaged peers.

Using the Performance Index (PI) from the Ohio Department of Education, study researchers estimated that in 2017, 329,742 students in 34 school districts require more funding to achieve a passing grade of PI 60%.

“The average funding gap per pupil in underfunded districts is $32,251,” says Feng.” This amounts to $10.6 billion a year for them to catch up with their peers, which is certainly not feasible.”

That number is calculated under the assumption that money is the only tangible resource that can be provided to those disadvantaged kids.

The study asserts the way forward should include three key initiatives: the state should reevaluate its funding formula to funnel funds to poorer districts. The state should reevaluate the funding system to account for the fact that the current system does not recognize that appreciation of property values does not translate into actual greater revenue for districts because House Bill 290 separates property value increases from taxes collected on those properties. In addition, the state should strive to increase its share of funding to take some burden from local property owners. Additionally, the state should increase its overall economic development through enhancing its investment in K-12 education in regions that lack funding capacity.

Study co-author Rodrigo Perez-Silva, Assistant Professor within the Center of Economics and Social Policy of Universidad Mayor in Chile says that since education budgets are always a soft target for cutback threats during fiscal challenges, the state coming up with additional funds to buy its way out of the funding gap is not feasible. A new mindset on education is needed.

“It might be the time to rethink the nature of education, says Perez-Silva. “And look at it not only as a right or an expense, but rather a major investment that would lead to economic and social prosperity in the future.”

Study authors add that improving K-12 education would strengthen the growth of local economy through an increase in both quality and quantity of local labor supply. A strategic approach of growing the local economy entails playing the long game by investing more in education today.

Contacts:

Bo Feng, fengb@marshall.edu, (304) 696-5757

Rodrigo A. Perez-Silva, rodrigo.perez@umayor.cl