School funding in Ohio needs to address the digital divide

If you are reading this, more than likely you have internet access. In fact, you probably take it for granted. Not so in many of the homes with doors I knock on to campaign for the Dayton City Commission. Using Google to look things up, or email to communicate is as foreign to them as airplanes were to the caveman. While Dayton Public Schools was considering a “bring your technology to school” program to allow kids to bring netbooks, tablets, laptops and e-readers to school, the elephant in the room was that some kids are lucky to have shoes to wear to school.

Governor Kasich just pulled yet another fast one in his new school funding plan. He made sure to provide a way to send public money to private schools (of course, only when those schools weren’t doing their jobs) but he didn’t take the much needed step to make sure every student has equal access to the technology (and increasingly- teach-knowlegly) that is essential to doing anything remotely resembling a job in today’s society.

Kasich proposed several new programs outside the school-funding formula, including $300 million in one-time grants for innovations that lead to cost-reductions.

The voucher program would provide $8.5 million in fiscal year 2014 and $17 million in fiscal year 2015 from a separate fund and would not be deducted from school districts. Students in households below 200 percent of federal poverty level — a family of four making $46,100 or less in 2012 — would be eligible.

Students entering kindergarten would be eligible in the first year and the program would expand to first grade and kindergarten in 2014-15. Vouchers would also be offered to students in schools that fail to pass third-graders who read at grade level.

The vouchers would be paid from a separate fund and would not be deducted from school districts.

Currently, Ohio offers private school vouchers to students attending chronically low-performing schools through the EdChoice program. EdChoice vouchers cover $4,250 for elementary and middle school students and $5,000 for high school students, a portion of what public schools receive per student.


If the Governor really wants to see “Achievement Everywhere” it’s time to address this basic fundamental of a modern education- access to the internet and a device to take advantage of it are essential. And, while we’re at it, we also need to realize that what we consider “high-speed internet” is still woefully slow, even where people do have U-verse or FIOS, we are still virtual snails compared to what the people of South Korea are using. And when it comes to rural Ohio- where the only “high speed” option is typically a data capped cell phone connection, we’re still in the stone age.

The value of universally accessible high speed internet to Ohio’s students with devices capable of providing a rich internet experience is as essential, if not more important than teachers with Masters degrees or even current textbooks. We live in a day when those of us with an internet connection can teach ourselves anything from multiplication to string theory physics by utilizing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) taught by the leading thinkers in almost any subject. Grant the ability of every Ohio student to access these, and maybe we will find that “school funding” in the traditional sense wasn’t the real issue at all. The lawsuit demanding equal funding was caused by the inequity of taxes between rich and poor districts- which is also the difference between rich and poor homes. If we make sure the poor homes have equal access to the global repository of knowledge, we may start seeing a leveling of the educational playing field.

And before any of you start talking about how the poor kids’ parents will sell off their kids’ computers for crack, when these computers are bought in the same quantities as textbooks, we’ll have huge cost savings via purchasing power, the computers will be trackable, and lastly, they will save us potentially billions in paper, mailings, and textbook purchases very quickly. As a side benefit, you and I may actually see a huge drop in the cost of Internet access and an increase in speeds as Ohio spans the digital divide and moves into modern times.


Corporate welfare causing a catfight on Dayton School Board

Dayton Public Schools were one of the biggest losers when NCR picked up and moved to Atlanta. NCR paid a lot of property tax that funded the system and when the University of Dayton acquired the 25 acres with the former World Headquarters building for $18 million, that revenue went away. UD doesn’t have to pay property taxes as a “non-profit.” Unfortunately, neither do our large hospitals- Miami Valley Hospital, Grandview, Good Sam- all get a hall pass when it comes to paying property taxes despite paying executives multi-million dollar salaries+benefits and acquiring property left and right (the recent Premier Health Partners purchase of the former Citizen Federal/Fifth Third bank building at the corner of 2nd and Main also cut DPS tax revenue).

Never forget that it’s been a long time since the Ohio Supreme Court found Ohio’s formula for funding education through property taxes unconstitutional in 1997 and nothing has been done to change it.

The UD/NCR deal was thrown back in the spotlight when UD decided to underwrite a GE jet engine research facility on the former tax generating NCR property, serving as a false front to give GE a 15 year tax abatement. This “deal” was covered on this site in detail as it happened.

Now, we have political gamesmanship going on in the school board race, with Joe Lacey (who is not running and is the only school board member to have the guts to comment here) calling out the recently appointed replacement for Jeff Mims, Bill Schooler, a liar in statements made to the Dayton Daily News last week.

From today’s DDN:

Dayton Board of Education member Joe Lacey has filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission against fellow board member, the Rev. William Schooler regarding comments Schooler made about the General Electric multimillion-dollar tax abatement deal the board approved in July.

Schooler is running for the board seat he was appointed to last winter. Others vying for the three seats in the Nov. 8 election are incumbents Nancy Nerny and Sheila Taylor and challenger Robert C. Walker.

Lacey — who said he’s backing Nerny and Taylor in the election — alleged Schooler violated election law by making false statements designed to promote himself….

Schooler said in a recent newspaper article that he voted against the tax increment financing (TIF) arrangement in the board’s 4-3 decision because it will sacrifice more than $400,000 per year for the first 15 years of the TIF deal.

Lacey, who voted in favor of the TIF, noted the district “did not give or expend financial resources” as part of the approved agreement. “The district did vote to abate taxes on future property improvements under the tax increment financing agreement, but there was no abatement of currently existing property,” he wrote in the complaint.

To entice GE to pick Dayton, the city created the TIF plan to forgive all property taxes against the estimated $19.2 million facility for 15 years, then split the property taxes evenly between the city and Dayton Public for the next 15 years. The district would receive about $311,000 annually in the second 15 years under current distribution rates.

Lacey also took issue with Schooler saying the district likely will return to the voters with a levy in 2013-14 and have to explain why it gave $6 million in future property tax revenue.

“Mr. Schooler’s statements that the district ‘sacrificed’ and ‘gave away’ district resources are designed to alarm the voting public to support his candidacy because of his opposition to the district’s actions,” Lacey said in the complaint filed Tuesday…

A probable cause panel will hear the complaint Oct. 27 and decide whether a violation occurred, Executive Director Phil Richter said.

via BOE member files complaint.

The problem with all of Lacey’s argument is that while technically correct, that the School Board didn’t give away tax dollars that it was receiving- it lost those when UD took over the property, the reality is that GE can well afford to pay taxes and shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind UD’s tax abatement at all- it’s pure and simple corporate welfare handed out to one of the biggest tax evaders in corporate America.

If Lacey is saying that Schooler is lying about the need to go back to the voters for a levy, does that mean that Joe Lacey is guaranteeing that there will be no levy? Can we have that in writing, and who will enforce it? Certainly not the kangaroo court run by Mr. Richter and the Ohio Elections Commission which seems to make great efforts to go after minor losing candidates for campaign finance reports while leaving things like 17 members of Qbase senior management all donating $1000 ea to Congressman Steve Austria’s campaign, in the same week, with most of them never having given over $250 ever to anyone except for the former CEO and his wife.

A ruling on Oct 27th does nothing to solve the matter either, only adding more publicity to the rift between the two factions on the school board. To keep score, here’s the lineup: Yvvone Issac’s (the last remaining kids count candidate) and Stacy Thompson (highest vote getter in all Dayton races last year) and Schooler (the recently appointed member) all voted against the GE handout. Only Schooler is on the ballot of the minority block. For the majority vote you have Joe Lacey and Ron Lee who aren’t up for election and board president Nancy Nearny and Sheila Taylor who voted to give away the store.

Schooler is supporting the only challenger, Rev Robert C Walker, which could potentially shift the power to the minority if both are elected. Nearny almost didn’t make the ballot, which would have done this automatically had not the Board of (S)Elections found 8 additional signatures as good on her petitions (for the record, I signed her petition believing it is in the best interest of the voters to have the choice to make the decision- not the BOE).

The real question is are the voters even paying attention to any of this. When the Dayton Informer has asked the #Occupy Dayton protesters if they knew about the GE deal- most have been totally unaware that this kind of thing isn’t just happening on Wall Street but here in Dayton on South Patterson boulevard thanks to UD, GE and our current Dayton Public School board.

[full disclaimer, I own The Next Wave – a local advertising agency that is currently engaged in contract work for the Dayton Public Schools public information office- ultimately, any contract over $5k has to be approved by the school board, and by writing this I am taking a chance that the great work we are doing to transform the image of the schools could become a political football by my writing this. I believe the quality and value our work provides the Schools should outweigh any political repercussions from my attempt to honestly cover the important issues in our community]


Strickland on the right track with education

Finally, something that makes sense- the Governor wants to increase the school year to 200 days to match the rest of the industrialized world. However, phasing it in over ten years is lame.

In his State of the State speech, (Gov.) Strickland also proposed school funding changes to bring the state’s share of the cost of education to 59 percent. With the changes, he and lawmakers would meet their “constitutional obligation to our children,” a reference to four Ohio Supreme Court decisions ruling the school funding system unconstitutional, he said.

The changes in education are aimed at moving Ohio ahead, despite tough times, he said.

“…we’ll take these steps with a very deliberative purpose. It’s because, as President (John F.) Kennedy once put it, ‘We want to be first. Not first if. Not first but, but first,” Strickland, a Democrat, said.

The changes, most of which would require approval by the legislature, include:

*Establishing all-day kindergarten in all schools.

*Phasing in 20 extra schools days over a 10-year period, bringing the learning year to the international average of 200 days.

*Expanding the school day with activities such as community service and tutoring.

*Establishing a four-year residency program for teachers to complete to qualify for their professional teaching license.

*Eliminating so-called “phantom revenue” from the school funding formula. The formula now assumes local school districts collect more revenue as property values go up, but state law doesn’t allow tax collections to increase with property values.

*Replacing the Ohio Graduation Test with the ACT college entrance exam, end of course exams, completion of a service learning project and submission of a senior project.

via Strickland unveils sweeping changes for Ohio schools | Ohio politics.

What is still missing is a commitment to Head Start and parental coaching. I wrote about how early childhood education is a better investment than remedial teaching later in this post: Should Dayton be investing in child care?

It’s also time to talk about a post HS year of service requirement nationally, in exchange for at least a 2-year associate’s degree at a community college.

America needs to get serious about education. Yesterday.

The long view on the current crisis: time for an Internet sales tax for education

Spending is down, sales tax revenues are falling, real estate values and the correlating property taxes are falling- and even the “Fair tax” advocates are pro-consumption taxes, so it’s time to institute a fixed national sales tax on all items purchased over the Internet, collected Federally, and distributed per capita, by student- for education.

Not only is this a better way to fund education, it would make it easier for business to have to worry about only one tax rate and one tax collector nationally (the idiots in Columbus try to have it be businesses’ responsibility to collect different rates for all 88 counties- stupid). But, most importantly, we can stop having to rely on local governments to fund our most valuable future investment: our future workers.

The concept of investing in social capital (or as Robert Reich calls it: human capital) is one that will always pay back. Read this portion of his commentary on American Public Radio’s Marketplace:

ROBERT REICH: Our preoccupation with the immediate crisis of financial capital is causing us to overlook the bigger crisis in America’s human capital. While we commit hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street, we’re slashing our outlays for public education.

Education is largely funded by state and local governments whose revenues are plummeting. As consumers cut back, state sales taxes are shrinking, and as home values decline local property taxes are taking a hit. Three-quarters of our states are facing budget crises. As a result, schools are being closed, teachers laid off, after-school programs cut, so-called “noncritical” subjects like history eliminated, and tuition hiked at state colleges.

It’s absurd. We’re bailing out every major bank to get financial capital flowing again. But we’re squeezing the main sources of our human capital.

Yet, the future competitiveness and standard of living of America depend on our peoples’ skills, their capacities to communicate and solve problems, and innovate — not their ability to borrow money.

What’s more, human capital is rooted here, while financial capital moves around the globe at the speed of an electronic blip. Right now global capital markets are frozen, but the big money — mostly in Asia and the Middle East — will come back here eventually, bailout or no bailout.

via Marketplace: Where’s the bailout for human capital?.

In all this talk about bailing out the banking industry and the American auto manufacturers for ungodly sums of money- and Barack Obama’s talk about investing in infrastructure- very little has been said about what kind of work force we want to have in the future. If we don’t invest in our people, we may not have the brain power to continue to matter in the world.

With our financial system in tatters, and the dollar becoming little more than monopoly money, used to buy off politicians- why would anyone want to invest here instead of the fastest growing, larger economies of China or India?

The reality is, Internet sales need to be taxed, without making online commerce more difficult. Eliminating local education taxes and the expensive mechanisms used to collect them, as well as the insanity of school levies – should help make this an easy transition- that even businesses will see a benefit through simpler collection processes.

Look at the cuts that every State is facing. If not now, when? It’s time to get serious about funding our social capital, before we don’t have any left.

If we cared as much about education as football in Ohio

Ohio State just lost another football national championship.


Maybe it’s a curse. Maybe when the State Legislature gets serious and deals with the un-constitutional school funding system the curse will be lifted.

Educating children should come before winning football games.

I’d rather live in a State with the best schools in the country, with students performing in the top percentile, than in the home of the National Champion College Football team.

If any of you agree with me, please donate to my campaign.

It’s time to change our priorities, starting with laptops for every student in Ohio.

It’s time to stop giving tax abatements to companies when we need those taxes for our schools.

Given a choice between a Nobel prize winner and the Heisman, I dream of the day when the former comes first.