The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
Ohio’s implementation of the Fair School Funding Plan for K-12 education has been slower than public school advocates wanted, including studies on the actual cost of educating a child in the state.
In an effort to show the state legislature some of the needs of the state education system, two economists focused on the supplemental service needs of economically disadvantaged students.
Though the public school funding plan was implemented with the last state budget for two years of its six-year phase-in, it wasn’t until December 2022 that Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid (DPIA) was updated to be in line with the rest of the school funding formula.
Dr. Howard Fleeter and Dr. R. Gregory Browning joined with the Ohio Education Policy Institute to conduct a study on the impacts of DPIA and what school districts are doing on their own to support students who need the extra help.
“Clearly, without a full understanding of what is entailed in providing supplemental services at the school building level … it is not possible to determine with accuracy all instructional and related operational costs,” the OEPI study stated.
DPIA students are eligible for free and reduced lunch because their family income is less than 130% of the federal poverty level for a free lunch and less than 185% for a reduced lunch.
“It’s a lot of kids and it’s grown significantly,” Fleeter told the OCJ. “But the funding has grown much more slowly.”
If a school has more than 40% eligibility for the free lunch program, the entire school can be considered economically disadvantaged, which the OEPI study said can reduce paperwork for districts and families, which they say works “as a barrier to program participation.”
The fact that studies of DPIA costs have been pulled out of the last two budget proposals, despite being considered an integral part of the Fair School Funding Plan by one of the initial authors of the bill, former state Rep. John Patterson, drove Fleeter and Browning to compose their own study, Fleeter said.
“DPIA is one component of the (funding) formula that has been treated differently,” Fleeter said.
The goal of the study was to not only get a study on the funding authorized by the General Assembly, but also to bring Ohioans’ attention to the issue.
“The idea was to try to make this problem as real as possible,” Fleeter said. “What are the challenges that these students post for the districts and what do the districts do to help these kids?”
To showcase the problem, the researchers chose a suburban, urban and rural school district Ohio to cover the different education communities in the state: Shaker Heights City Schools, Columbus City Schools and Jackson City Schools.
Through the study, Fleeter said they found “three very different districts were using fairly similar strategies to address these problems.”
They were also able to see a hypothetical situation – what would schools do if extra money fell from the sky – come to fruition with the pandemic funding through the American Rescue Plan.
Fleeter said schools invested in health and wellness programs, purchased Chromebooks for remote learning, and helped with school credit recovery for struggling students, among other things.
“They were using this federal money to continue doing the types of things they wanted to do, but weren’t (previously) being funded in a way they could actually do it,” Fleeter said.
Though the ARPA funding is not an ongoing financial source, the researchers said how the districts used the money is a clear example of how state funding would be used, and should be used, in the future.
“We know the things that we need to be doing, we just need to get to this point where districts can have the resources to get the tools they need,” Fleeter said.
The OEPI study concluded that one out of two public school students fall under the DPIA category, meaning they need “supplemental services in order to succeed educationally.”
Because of barriers created by a student’s economic situation, researchers said the students are also “educationally disadvantaged,” meaning the supports they need will be over and above the base services of a skill. Estimates show the cost of services is 30% greater in poverty-impacted districts.
The analysis recommended redefining “economically disadvantaged” by using the Ohio Medicaid income eligibility standard of 206% of the federal poverty level to achieve consistency.
“If this shift took place, no student who is currently eligible for free or reduced-price lunch would be made ineligible for this important benefit,” the study stated.
Fleeter and Browning started the study before the legislature decided to enhance DPIA funding, so they were encouraged that one policy recommendation has already been met, with Browning calling it “fully consistent with the policy implications” included in the OEPI study.