Until we can change state funding, we must keep schools strong

Our district is facing substantial budget shortfalls due to our state’s flawed system of school funding, namely EdChoice. Our district is also working with districts across the state to get the state legislature to fix this, but this is a glacially slow process. In the meantime, school levies are how districts across Ohio must make up funding gaps caused by the state's flawed funding model and EdChoice.

Here’s how EdChoice works:

The state mandates student testing to assess public-school performance. However, these tests have repeatedly been shown to tell us way less about how well a school is educating its students and way more about the students’ socioeconomic background. In other words, these tests are designed to target racially and economically diverse districts like ours and declare them “failing.”

Once a school is declared “failing,” then all children [within the district] are eligible to receive vouchers for private schools—vouchers the state mandates be paid directly out of the district’s budget. Though the state allots $1,927 of funding per student in our district, [the district is] required to pay $4,650 to $6,000 (depending on the grade level) per voucher—a loss for the district of $2,723 or $4,037 per voucher. Each voucher, then, is essentially taking the funding for two to three other students in the district. Our district is projected to lose more than $9 million to vouchers this school year alone.

The claim is that students who are not receiving a quality education in the public school can transfer to a private school. However, 94.8% of our district’s voucher students have never attended our public schools.

Our community is around 50% people of color. Yet our public schools are 83% people of color. Meanwhile, 89% of the students taking vouchers are white. EdChoice is facilitating modern-day school segregation and [the] defunding of largely minority schools.

The kicker is that our public schools are NOT FAILING. Our district is committed to providing a full and enriching education to all of the children in our community. Our district has incredible strengths, most notably its wide array of programming in terms of [its] courses, career paths, extracurriculars, and arts and music; and its social supports, including school counselors and social workers, for students who need more resources to succeed.

These programs aren’t optional add-ons to education. They give meaning to education. They make real understanding possible. They help students see themselves—who they are, who they could be, and how they are part of something bigger. And the result is a graduation rate that exceeds the state average and students who emerge from our schools ready to excel on whatever path they choose.

While I agree that it shouldn’t fall on us to pony up extra money to fully fund our schools, until we get the state legislature to act to fix this unconstitutional system of funding, this is the situation we’re in. If we are forced to cut academic and extracurricular programs, as well as social services, we will not be educating our children. We will be leaving many behind, and we will be simply training the rest to work jobs that don’t provide meaning or opportunity.

Public school students, just like private school students, deserve an education that opens possibilities for our children, so they graduate knowing they have something to offer the world, that they are an essential part of something bigger, and that they matter.

More than this, allowing our public schools to be dismantled by this inequitable system will have long-term and wide-reaching impacts across our community. The quality of our schools affects home values, poverty rates, crime rates, civic engagement, tax revenues, and more. When we make sure our schools are strong, we make sure our housing market, local economy, public safety, and public services remain strong, as well. Investing in our public schools is an investment in our entire community.

We know that people are struggling right now. With that in mind, this is the smallest levy our district has asked for in over 30 years. But it is the only way our schools can continue to be strong. We cannot allow EdChoice to win in defunding our public schools. We must pass Issue 69.

Josephine Moore

Josie Moore is a proud Cleveland Heights resident, mother, wife, and small-business owner.

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Volume 13, Issue 11, Posted 3:35 PM, 10.23.2020