More funds alone won’t cure schools

Ohio’s recently enacted state budget bill makes some changes to the way schools are funded. Officials appear to be making an effort to address issues that led State Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to express concern about the constitutionality of the state’s funding formula.

Calculations for state aid to schools have been adjusted, and the amount of money each district gets per pupil has been increased. State Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said he believes the changes in the two-year budget bill make Ohio’s school funding formula constitutional.

But throwing more money at a problem does not mean legislators can wash their hands of it. Between 1992 and 2011, per-pupil spending by U.S. public schools doubled. Report after report shows our students are not getting twice as good an education, and, in fact, a growing body of research shows them falling behind their peers in other nations. Ohio, meanwhile, has outspent the rest of the country. In 2011, the last year for which U.S. Census bureau data are available, Ohio spent $11,223 per pupil, compared with the national average of $10,560.

Despite that level of spending, Ohio again is being accused of not complying with a 2002 court order to equalize school funding between rich and poor districts. But among the revisions to the state’s funding formula are more requirements for how districts can spend money, including directing more into classrooms and less for administration and support.

William Phillis, of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy in School Funding, reminded legislators the new funding level “has nothing to do with funding the components of a quality education.”

Adding more money to the formula will not address conditions that changed little in the past decade. Gov. John Kasich and the General Assembly may be on the right track in adjusting the variables and trying to get better results with what money is available. But Ohio already appears to be funneling plenty of money into its schools.

Ohio may have something to learn from Texas, which this year faced its own lawsuit over public school funding. A witness in the case told the court he saw no correlation between per student spending and test results.

“If we simply put more resources into schools and use it the way (Texas) districts have been using it we should not expect higher achievement from students on average,” said Eric Hanushek, an education expert at Stanford University. “We are wasting resources to the extent that we are spending on things that don’t matter.”

Ohio’s school funding system is still unbalanced. Instead of adding more weight to the financial side of the scale, it is time for politicians to lean more heavily on the side of improving teachers, schools and the development of the state’s greatest resource.