‘You owe us $3.8 million,’ Firelands board of education tells state

District bills Ohio for 13 years worth of cash lost to charter schools

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@civitasmedia.com

Firelands taxpayers have forked over nearly $3.8 million to area charter schools since 2002. Now the school district has sent the state of Ohio a bill for that lost revenue.

The board of education voted unanimously this month to invoice the state for public money it feels should go to public schools.

“Please make check payable to: Firelands Board of Education,” says the bill.

“This action was in response to Ohio’s failed charter school experiment and the unfair expense it creates for local districts,” educators said in a formal statement.

The district, which covers parts of the city of Amherst and townships stretching west across the Erie County border, is not alone in the fight.

The Woodridge Local Schools, located in the Akron-Cuyahoga Falls area, invoiced the Ohio Department of Education this fall for just over $5 million related to charter school funding deductions. The Logan Hocking Schools in Hocking County followed suit with a $4.7 million claim.

Gov. John Kasich’s biennial budget channeled almost $1 billion in public funds to privately-run schools, according to the Legislative Service Commission.

This year, Firelands claims its share of that lost money was $327,263. But 2012 marked the worst loss for the school system at $396,910.

The state provides $1,954 in per-pupil state share funding to the Firelands Schools but deducts $5,800 for each student who enrolls in a charter school, according to a resolution signed by the board.

Innovation Ohio, an education policy group, released a report titled “Unfair Funding: How Charter Schools Win and Traditional Schools Lose,” studying the way state charter funding played out in 2011-2012.

It claimed money shifted to charter schools caused public schools on average to get $235 less per child than the state claimed was needed.

More than 40 percent of state funding for charters that year was transferred from traditional public school districts that rated better on both Ohio’s state report card and performance index, the group said.

Innovation Ohio said the situation caused real, measurable problems.

In fiscal year 2012, traditional schools were told they would collectively get $6.3 billion to education the 1.7 million students in Ohio. That broke down to $3,634 per pupil.

By contrast, charter schools got $7,141 per pupil – $774 million set aside for just 108,000 kids enrolled outside the traditional systems.

And while districts lost 6.5 percent of their state funding on average due to diverted operating cash, some districts got a far worse shake.

Brooklyn topped the list of worst losers; a full 60 percent of its state funding was handed to privately-run institutions. Here in Lorain County, Avon Lake was slammed with a 13 percent reduction.

That’s based on percentages. When it comes to real dollars, Elyria was among the hardest hit with a loss of $2.6 million.

Firelands superintendent Mike Von Gunten said the state cannot be allowed to continue sapping money away.

“The legislature must find a way to fund charter schools that does not penalize local public schools,” he said. “On average, the taxpayers in our district are paying tuition in access of $3,800 for every student in our district that attends a charter school.”

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

District bills Ohio for 13 years worth of cash lost to charter schools

By Jason Hawk