ELYRIA TWP. — Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich was at the Educational Services Center on Thursday to discuss charter schools and what he called the state’s unconstitutional school funding system.
A couple hundred people attended the meeting, many of whom were parents, teachers or administrators from charter schools and traditional public schools in Lorain County.
Forme rU.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich speaks Thursday at a meeting at Educational Service Center of Lorain County. Steve Manheim / Chronicle
Throughout the meeting, the conversation from those on both the sides of traditional public schools and charter schools turned from talk of unconstitutional funding to defense of their preferred type of school.
Twenty years ago, in DeRolph v. State, the Ohio Supreme Court declared the state’s education funding system unconstitutional. The court found that an overreliance on local property taxes creates inequitable educational opportunities for students.
After revisiting the lawsuit multiple times, the high court eventually relinquished jurisdiction. The matter has been unresolved ever since.
“There’s nobody in this room who would be able to ignore a court order,” Kucinich said. “An order of the Supreme Court of the United States was ignored by the state government. Make no mistake about it, the financing of public education is a constitutional responsibility of state government.”
Proponents of traditional public schools say that increasing this inequality is state funding, to the tune of $950 million last year, being diverted to privately run, publicly funded charter schools. It is a singular system with dual beneficiaries, Kucinich said.
Ray Jablonski, an Elyria High School history teacher, thanked Kucinich for drawing attention to educational inequality as it relates to school funding in the state. He said regardless of whether the school is a traditional public school or charter school, the funding system remains one of inequality.
“When I consider school funding from my perspective as a parent, teacher and taxpayer, I’m unsettled,” he said. “The sheer volume of funding that is mismanaged can seem alarming.”
Kucinich said the idea of privatization is big business. He said the state legislature created a system that has carved out about $10 billion for charter schools.
“In my research, privatization causes people to pay a second time for something they paid for already once,” Kucinich said. “Privatization of public assets is a major issue in America and in the case of education, the government pays to private management companies in the charter industry a significant amount of the funds that many people think are intended solely for public schools.”
Kucinich said public schools in Ohio have a long history of being denied money through tax maneuvers and abatements, which allow corporations to receive significant property tax reductions on some of the most valuable parcels of land.
Kucinich also pointed out that the Ohio Lottery was sold to voters on the basis that money generated would supplement education, but that never happened, and the lottery was able to use the money for other purposes.
Citing an example of public funds going to charter schools, Kucinich said the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow received more than $1 billion in public funds over a 15-year period, of which more than $100 million came from Ohio’s public school districts.
“I’m concerned the way the current educational system is set up is undermining and destroying public education’s financial base,” Kucinich said.
But when Kucinich said charter schools don’t have the same oversight standards as traditional public schools, and that they don’t follow the same rules when it comes to public records or public meetings, charter school supporters groaned and called those statements untrue.
Jayson Bendik, assistant principal for Lorain Horizon Science Academy, said Horizon has an appointed school board that meets bimonthly to approve all policies and procedures that funnel through the school. Public notice is given of board meetings, he said.
“We also have to follow all federal, state and Ohio Department of Education rules and procedures,” Bendik said.
Kucinich maintained that charter schools aren’t as transparent as traditional public schools. He said charter schools may be defined as public, but the National Labor Relations Board has ruled Ohio charters are private for purposes of labor law.
William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, who organized the town hall events at which Kucinich is speaking across the state, said numerous charter schools receive D and F letter grades.
Phillis said the salaries of for-profit charter school management companies are not public. He said one school had a director making $5 million a year, and it isn’t uncommon for administrators to earn $500,000 salaries.
Avon Schools Superintendent Mike Laub said one of the problems traditional public schools have is the dollars per pupil that leave districts when students choose to attend charter schools.
Avon Schools gets $1,039 per student, Laub said, and of its $36 million budget, $4 million comes from the state. Laub said when a student leaves for a charter school, the district sends about $5,700 with them.
“We receive $1,000 and we send away over $5,000,” Laub said. “That’s a fact that’s not a made-up number.”
But Bendik said Laub’s example is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Avon is a wealthier district in which many residents have six-figure incomes, he said, so the money they receive per pupil is less than what an impoverished district will receive per pupil.
Almost 100 percent of students at Bendik’s school receive free or reduced lunches.
“What (Mike Laub) said is true, but it’s not a good comparison,” Bendik said. “What we are saying is give the power to the parent to choose what happens with the money.”
Charter schools also receive no local funding because only state foundation payments follow the student, Bendik said, and charter schools cannot apply for state funds for building projects.
“Those are two big pieces of the puzzle traditional public schools don’t talk about,” Bendik said.
Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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