On paper, an urban school district like Cleveland Metropolitan Schools spends more money per student than a suburban one like Bexley City Schools outside Columbus.
But adjust that spending to account for the number of special education students, English Language Learners, and kids from impoverished households each district serves, and the amount leftover for basic education needs drops by $4000 in Cleveland, and only $1500 in Bexley.
“Pupils of each of those types are going to require more resources to educate them than your typical pupil will be,” says Howard Fleeter, a consultant with the Education Tax Policy Institute.
In his report “Apples to Apples: Ohio School District Expenditures Per Equivalent Pupil,” Fleeter concluded urban and rural districts that serve high needs populations are stretching their dollars much further than their counterparts that have wealthier populations.
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Fleeter analyzed and compared per student spending across Ohio’s school systems. Then he adjusted that spending to account for the number of special ed students and kids in poverty each district serves.
The result: 30-40 percent of per student spending in urban districts goes toward special services like free lunch programs, special learning equipment, and translation materials. Rural districts spend 20-25 percent of their dollars on those services. And suburban systems spend about 14 percent.
The adjustment, he says, could give Ohioans a different perspective on the tax money they pay for their local school district.
“If you’re a tax payer in Cleveland Heights, and you’re wondering why are my taxes so high, look at what I spend, it’s about the same as Beachwood, it’s about the same as Orange. Why when I get my report card we’re not doing as well, it’s because the costs that Cleveland Heights faces to educate its population of students is higher than in those other districts.”
Fleeter says legislators might want to consider his study when developing the next school funding formula. Data from the Ohio Department of Education show the percent of Ohio students living in poverty has increased 50 percent in the past ten years.