Researcher Howard Fleeter is taking on a big and controversial issue – school spending.
Fleeter, a consultant for the Education Tax Policy Institute who specializes in school funding, recently developed a new formula he says would give the state a more accurate look at how each district spends their funds.
As he developed his new school expenditure formula someone once asked him, “When is spending $10,000 not spending $10,000?”
His reply: When a dollar doesn’t go as far in one place as it does in another – for instance, in big urban school districts, which may appear to be spending more money per student. Fleeter’s formula takes into account different student needs which use up more resources and results in less money per child.
Fleeter says he’s basically tweaking the current Ohio Department of Education formula but giving more weight to account for economic disadvantages, limited English proficiency, and special education programs.
“Those three categories of students all require different types of support services,” Fleeter said, “to get them to the point to get them to learn in the same way as other kids who don’t have those characteristics.”
As an example, Fleeter compared the Columbus school district to the district in neighboring Bexley, which is much smaller and much wealthier.
Looking at the unadjusted rate it would appear both districts spend nearly the same amount of money per student. But Fleeter’s formula shows Columbus spending $3,000 less per student compared to Bexley. Fleeter says that means more resources are being stretched further in Columbus.
“You know a lot of times we’ll look and say in a view ‘That district spends a lot and they don’t do very well on the proficiency tests.’ Well, it may be that they have a lot of students that are extremely costly,” Fleeter said. “You know their true level of resources that they actually have to spend on the basics of education aren’t as high as they might appear because their dollars don’t go as far because they have more pupils that are more costly.”
Fleeter says it’s unclear what kind of impact this formula may have on the future of school funding. He hopes that simply talking about giving more weight to these factors will help put the state on a more accurate funding path. Fleeter says he and the Education Tax Policy Institute hope to meet with members of the Ohio Department of Education to talk about this formula in more detail.