March 1, 2013: Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education – H.B. 59 Testimony


Friday, March 1, 2013

Chairman Hayes, Ranking Member Lundy and members of the Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, my name is David James. I am Superintendent of Akron Public Schools (APS) and Co-Chair of the Ohio 8 Coalition.

 

The Ohio 8 is a strategic alliance composed of the superintendents and teacher union presidents from Ohio’s eight urban school districts – Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown. The Ohio 8 Coalition’s mission is to work with policy makers to improve academic performance, increase graduation rates and close the achievement gap for urban children throughout Ohio. The Coalition carries out its mission by working closely with legislators, educators, parents, labor and community officials. The Coalition brings a shared administrator-teacher voice to help shape state education policy and practice, the only one of its kind in the country.

 

The purpose of my testimony is three fold:

1)  To outline our concerns regarding House Bill 59

2)   Provide recommendations on how to shape this bill so that it can better address and/or clarify the needs of children across the state.

3)   To request that any additional funds available in the budget process help to support these particular ideas.

 

1.      Overall funding allocations

On the surface, the Executive budget proposal appears to offer flat funding or some increases to the Ohio 8 districts. However, since the proposed budget has new line items and modified formulas that influence the way that the current adjustments are calculated districts could potentially end up paying out significantly more, significantly less  or a similar amount.

 

 

A this time, we do not have all of the data to be able to fully assess the bill and the overall net amount received by districts from the state. We are in the process of  running scenarios to understand how each of our districts will be impacted and will share that information with you as soon as it becomes available. As you are aware only some of the critical data that drives the calculations was made available late Tuesday and we have been working as quickly as possible since then to analyze the information to help inform your deliberations. As a result, we realize that this testimony may outline more questions than suggested solutions, but please understand that we would like to continue working together with you and your staff to formulate as many solutions as possible in the time frame provided and are flexible in discussing anything that we all think can contribute to stronger policy on behalf of Ohio’s students.

 

2.      Student Group Pay Back Provision| Section 3317.40

With  regard  to  student  groups  or  ‘special  populations’  (Special  Education,  ELL, Economically Disadvantaged, Gifted) the executive budget includes new formulas that drive the per pupil allocation within each student group. In addition to those new formulas, there is also a contracting provision attached to those dollars that require schools that fail to show "consistent progress," to pay the allotted state funds provided for that subgroup to an organization that has demonstrated the ability to improve the educational outcomes for that subgroup of students.

 

Recommendation

Districts should have at least 3 years of the special population or “subgroup funding” before being asked to contract with others based on limited progress. Our rationale is that the system and the bar has changed nearly every 6 months and will continue to do so for next couple of years. We are requesting this stability to make reasonable progress as the bar continues to be raised. We also are requesting there be a detailed definition in this bill of what it means to make “consistent progress” so that there is no confusion about what would trigger this provision.

 

3.      Special Education | Section 3317.022 & Section 3317.0214

The executive budget proposes to take 15% of a district’s funds, pool them and make districts apply for reimbursements for their catastrophic costs. We know the gap between funding caps for traditional special education students and the threshold to access the catastrophic  fund  is  significant. The  cap  allocated  for  most  categories  of  special education students is about $10,000 less than the threshold amount of approximately $27,000. In other words, districts would need to spend at least $10,000 more than the reimbursed amount to be eligible to apply for reimbursement from the catastrophic fund.

 

Category and Description

Cap

Threshold

 

Category   2:    Cognitive    Disabilities,    Specific    Learning

Disability, Developmentally Delayed, Other Health Impaired (Minor)

$4,827

$27,375

Category 3: Hearing Impaired, Emotional Disturbance

$11,596

$27,375

Category  4:  Visual  Impairment,  Other  Health  Impaired (Major)

$15,475

$27,375

Category 5: Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic

$20,959

$27,375

Category 6: Deaf-Blind, Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury

$30,896

$32,850

 

In addition, typically a district applies for reimbursement in December and may not receives that reimbursement until the following May. If districts are required to put 15% of their funding into the pool up front, some may have to use cash reserves. Some districts can not afford to be without such those funds for at least 6 months (which range from $2 million to in excess of $11 million for some of our districts), while  still providing for and paying for student needs throughout the school year.

 

Recommendations

  • Lower the amount required for transfer to the catastrophic special education fund by half, from 15% to 8%.
  • Lower the thresholds for accessing the catastrophic fund so more students can qualify for the reimbursement and receive the services they need.
  • Increase the payout amounts to better reflect the costs of special education students.
  • Include State GRF dollars into the catastrophic aid fund (it is exclusively local share 

    under the executive proposal).

 

4.      English Language Learners | 3317. 016

The funds for ELL students are based on the time they have spent in a school anywhere in the United States and reflect an annual reduction in the allocation for this student group based on time in the United States. Many Ohio 8 districts have an ELL population that come from significant circumstances including refugee camps and/or never having attended formal schooling in their lives. It is also important to note that this category is subject to the pay back provision.

  • $1,500: enrolled in school in the U.S. for 180 school days or less
  • $1,125: enrolled in school in the U.S. for more than 180 days
  • $750: does not qualify for inclusion in the above areas/is in a trial-mainstream period
  • $375: does not qualify for inclusion in the above areas and for whom the main language spoken at home is not English

 

Recommendations

  • Follow the federal guideline for ELL programming and categories which is based on a ‘3 years in the U.S.’ (as opposed to 180 days) before the first 25% reduction in funding occurs.
  • Change eligibility to the first year in an Ohio school district (versus any school district in the U.S.).
  • Eliminate the ‘pay back’ provision, which will hurt ELL programs in particular, because it takes some ELL students more than 3 years to progress.

 

5.      Parent Trigger | Section 3302.042

Ohio 8 schools districts have shut down, restructured or reconstituted low performing schools. This experience was, in part, why Columbus City Schools volunteered to take on the pilot program that is now within existing law. The process of turning around a low performing school is much more complex than what the proposed parent trigger law suggests and since the proposed policy is not yet completely tested or proven,  we strongly suggest you look to districts that have been successful and modifying this provision to better prepare it for success. In fact, a recent Education Week (article is attached) featured Cincinnati Superintendant Mary Ronan for her work in turning around multiple low performing schools.

 

Recommendations:

  • Maintain a pilot program to work out some significant process related issues before we apply this policy statewide.

  • Attached to my testimony is a list of questions that are not yet answered within the proposed legislation, which are critical to each local community understanding what this policy demands should they embark upon it. Please consider answering these questions by amending the proposal so the process is clear and reasonable.

  • Amend the legislation to address a potential conflict of interest that does not allow charter operators  to  gather signatures  from  parents and  provide  a  time limit  on signature gathering, just as they do in legislative or issue campaigns.
  • Talk with one of our Superintendents about what closing or restructuring a school really demands.

 

6.      Straight A Fund | Section 3317.52

$300 million Straight A Fund is an idea with significant merit.  We do, however, have some concerns around process and standards for the fund as outlined below.

 

Recommendations:

  • Expedite the time frame in which the Governing Board and advisors are appointed and provide guidelines for applications to the fund to help ensure districts can receive those funds before the upcoming school year ends.
  • Only allow school districts (community and traditional) to be the lead applicant for Straight A fund (as it stands now, anyone can apply for dollars, not just school districts or charter schools).
  • Redirect  some  portion  of  the  fund  to  support  an  expansion  of  preschool, professional development for elementary school teachers, supplemental instruction and/or summer school costs, and intensive reading-intervention strategies before, during, or after the school day. Even though this is on time money, there are ways we can utilize these funds to help with certain components of this effort.

 

7.      Voucher Expansion | Section 3310.03

HB 59 provides a secondary pathway to securing vouchers across the state of Ohio. Previously  vouchers  were  reserved  for  students  meeting  poverty  guidelines,  HB 59 includes an expansion for students grades K-3 will be eligible for a voucher based on their building’s failure to achieve a literacy grade higher than a “D” for two of three most recent ratings of school buildings AND did not receive a grade of “A” for making progress in improving literacy in graces K-3.

 

Recommendations:

Eliminate this expansion. There are many changes that will occur related to student and teacher evaluation and assessment in the coming years. This is yet another mandate that won’t necessarily resolve the critical need to provide intervention and remediation with particular students.

 

8.      Community Schools | Section 263.320

As this committee heard earlier this week, there is no reliable data set to understand how the formula related to community school allocations was determined. As a result, it places traditional public schools in the position of being unable to estimate their deductions. Compounding this is the fact that community schools will also receive allocations for special populations. Not having data related to opportunity grant allocations and now funding for student groups will only continue to cloud an already muddy reconciliation process between community schools and traditional public schools.

 

Recommendations:

The state should establish a reliable data set to understand exactly how many dollars will go to community schools, including opportunity grant allocations and a separate data set related to student group allocations. Until we have a clear picture of that information it is nearly impossible to know the impact of HB 59.

 

9.      Pupil Transportation | Section 263.170

The executive budget flat funds pupil transportation and modifies the system by replacing the state share percentage used in the current formula with a state share “index.” The results of the formula are prorated to fit within the appropriation. Under the executive proposal, pupil transportation is no longer  part  of  the  main  formula's  guarantee  or cap. There is insufficient information for districts to know the impact of the change to state “index” and removal from the cap and guarantee. Also, this line item has been flat funded for the several years while at the same time gas prices have increased and the school bus purchase subsidy has been eliminated, and we are transporting more students than in recent years.

 

Recommendations

We have some districts that cover in excess of 200 square miles with their bus fleet and we must have clarity around the following changes to this section:

  • Impact of shifting from state share percentage to state share index.
  • Impact on other line items as these funds since they are no longer a part of the guarantee or cap.
  • Impact of the new formula being prorated.
  • Consideration of additional resources.

 

10.  School Security Grant Program| Section 201.80

The proposed budget will provide $12 million for the purchase and installation of one MARCS unit per school building and a security door system, consisting of a security camera, intercom and remote access at one entrance per building. ($2,000 reimbursement for MARCS unit per building. Up to $5,000 reimbursement for costs incurred with the purchase of a security door system installed on or after January 1, 2013).

 

Recommendations

  • Funds are limited and language is not structured to be responsive to the needs of districts with multiple buildings.
  • Language must include/allow reimbursement for related equipment such as radios and information technology needs to coordinate and/or upgrade existing security systems.

 

Conclusion

As mentioned, the purpose of my testimony today was three fold. To outline our concerns regarding House Bill 59; provide recommendations on how to shape this bill so that it can better address and/or clarify the needs of children across the state; and to request that any additional funds available in the budget process help to support these particular ideas. As outlined, many good ideas are already proven to work and require additional support to make them even better. Others are motivated by the appropriate sentiment but require some changes to ensure success.

 

As mentioned in the beginning of my testimony, The Ohio 8 will continue to gather data to continue to help make informed decisions and build solutions to the issues we’ve outlined. We look forward to continuing our work with you and your staff to formulate recommendations and solutions that are best for the students across Ohio. I want to thank this Committee for giving me the opportunity to speak. I am happy to answer any questions.

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