Thursday, January 18, 2007

Can somebody explain the amendment to me? IANAL

Right now, the frequently asked questions about the Getting It Right ballot proposal are all about money - How much will it cost? Who gets the money? Where will the money come from? How much will it affect the taxes of resident X?

As the Dispatch points out in their handy Q&A, quite a bit depends on the eventual number attached to a High Quality Public Education. And I can't figure out the process for arriving at that number as it is laid out in the amendment. Don't get me wrong, this isn't one of those times where the writer plays dumb to expose some absurdity (even if I have a bad habit of taking that tone). The process may be precise and clearly delineated, once you understand it. I simply don't.

We start by saying that the proposal says that the state must ensure funding adequate to provide a High Quality Public Education (HQPE). What is a HQPE?

“HIGH QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION” means, collectively, all of those educational components, programs and services necessary to prepare each Public School Pupil to carry out the duties of citizenship and to function at the highest level of his or her abilities in post-high school education programs or gainful employment

Pardon my reading comprehension abilities. It seems to me that "collectively, all" implies that every component that meets the "necessity" threshhold will be included in the calculated cost. What are necessary components? The components, programs, and services necessary to prepare each Public School Pupil to carry out the duties... etc. So, for many students, English as a Second Language (ESL) programs will be necessary. In order to provide for each student, ESL is a necessary component/program/service. Therefore, a HQPE includes ESL programming. Even in districts where there are no non-native speakers. Right?

This line of confusion gets worse for me when I move up the definitional ladder and look at "Educational Components"

“EDUCATIONAL COMPONENTS” means, collectively, all of the necessary resources to provide a high quality public education for all Public School Pupils at every level and for every type of pupil, including, but not limited to, regular pupils and special education, vocational or career-technical, gifted, preschool, disadvantaged, and any other special needs pupils. Those components shall include, but not be limited to, those learning opportunities, services, educational resources, transportation services, facility maintenance and interscholastic and extracurricular activities necessary to prepare pupils to function at the highest level of their abilities in post-high school educational programs and to successfully earn a suitable livelihood and shall, together with such additional requirements as imposed by law, represent the minimum levels of educational opportunities to which all Public School Pupils have a fundamental right. Educational Components need not be identical for each Public School Pupil. Each Public School District shall provide for programmatic choices provided that each school district must offer the opportunity for a High Quality Public Education to each of its Public School Pupils

So, it's the opportunities, services, etc. Straightforward enough. But they only count if they are necessary to prepare pupils for post high-school education AND gainful employment. The HQPE definition said OR, which kind of made sense, but this seems to mandate college prep. Even though components need not be identical for each pupil, (!?!?) as long as a district is able to provide a set of components to each of its students such that they all can get a HQPE. Apparently, I was wrong before. Every student in the state, having unique strengths and challenges, will possibly require a different set of components to be prepared to function at the highest level of their abilities in college and the workplace.

Which brings us back to "the number:"

“ACTUAL COST” means the cost of ensuring availability of the educational components of a high quality public education for each Public School Pupil in each Public School District, taking into account the educational needs of each type of pupil, the location and demographic circumstances of the pupil and the programs and services necessary to provide that pupil access to a high quality public education. Actual Cost includes the cost of joint vocational schools and educational service centers or successor entities providing similar services.

So, the actual cost is the big picture total dollar amount that is required when we add up the costs of the components required for each individual pupil's HQPE. Right? Wrong?
It's addressed further:

The State Board of Education shall each budget biennium determine and certify to the General Assembly, the Governor and the Treasurer of State the Actual Cost of the Educational Components for each year of the next succeeding biennium. Actual Cost shall include the funds necessary to ensure for each Public School Pupil the availability of all appropriate Educational Components, as determined by the State Board of Education, together with all other requirements imposed by law. Actual Cost shall also include appropriate funding for the State Board of Education, the Education Advisory Commission, the Education Accountability Commission, educational service centers and joint vocational schools or successor organizations providing similar services.

Okay, I will step out and take a quick jab... Why put 'Actual Cost' in your short list of term definitions if you are just going to go and modify the heck out of that definition once you actually employ the term? Actually, one modification actually does confuse me - the Actual Cost apparently includes the cost of complying with unnamed legal requirements that are not actually necessary, or are at least neither componential or supervisory. Anyway, the term 'appropriate' has been added here, which further emphasizes the unique set of components for each individual (of course, that creates a problem when the commission has to figure out the cost of a component - ESL in a district with 30 non-native speakers costs less per pupil than ESL when you have 5, so educational components may have to be district-specific entities with district, possibly even building-level, differences in costs). As the Actual Cost includes the funding for the commissions, I feel safe in assuming that the Actual Cost is a state-level total, not a per-district or per-pupil number.

So now, if we have an individual price tag on every pupil's HQPE, and we have added those all together with some administrative costs at the state level, we have an Actual Cost. What do we do with that number? We use it to determine what the state has to kick in for education:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, the General Assembly shall deposit to the School Trust Fund during the course of each year of each budget biennium, sufficient funds, taking into account School District Local Revenue Contributions, to ensure the availability of a High Quality Public Education to each Public School Pupil as determined by the State Board of Education under this section. The amount deposited, together with School District Local Revenue Contributions, shall equal or exceed the statewide Actual Cost as certified by the State Board of Education. Such deposits shall include the proceeds of state lotteries provided in Section 6 of Article XV of this Constitution together with the proceeds of one or more other state taxes, the allocation of which may be determined by law.

So what happens to that pot'o'money?

Such deposits shall be distributed from the School Trust Fund to each School District as provided by law. No School District or joint vocational school district shall receive any greater amount from the School Trust Fund than that which, when combined with the district’s required School District Local Revenue Contribution, exceeds the amount necessary to ensure the opportunity for a High Quality Education for each of the Public School Pupils of the Public School District for any year.

So, for each district, you add up the costs of each of their pupils' HQPE for the year, and you get the total minimum funding level for that district, which shall be comprised of the locally required funding with the balance coming from the state.

If this is actually the system, I have several more questions. But before I go down that road, I'd rather have someone explain to me what the proposed system actually is, so that I can generate meaningful questions. Thanks.

1 comment:

Jill said...

Sounds like a good question for the Right for Ohio folks (the site seems to be down at the moment though).