Report: Ohio underestimates costs of teaching poor

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A leading education-funding think tank on Tuesday released new school district comparisons that it says more accurately reflect the costs of educating poor students.

The analysis by the Education Tax Policy Institute suggests that state dollars in Ohio's poorest districts aren't going as far as the state's "apples to apples" comparisons say they are. The study was commissioned by organizations representing district superintendents, treasurers and school boards.

It embraces the intent of the Ohio Department of Education's little-used fiscal benchmark reports while questioning one of the multipliers the department uses to account for a district's concentrations of expensive-to-teach special education, limited English-speaking and economically disadvantaged students.

Economist Howard Fleeter, who led the study, said Ohio significantly underestimates what it costs to educate a poor student when compared with national research and figures used by other states.

Ohio's major urban districts received $14,200 per pupil on average in fiscal year 2011. Fleeter's study found that while the state says that amounted to about $10,300 per pupil when adjusted, a more appropriate measure would put the per-pupil average around $8,600.

"School funding's complicated and the simplest thing to do is not the most correct thing to do, which is just to look at the amount of school funding per pupil and some outcome measure and say a district's doing well or it's doing terribly," Fleeter said. "These apples-to-apples comparisons are the best way to understand what's really happening with education in Ohio."

He said Columbus and its wealthy suburban neighbor, Bexley, are a good example. In raw dollars, Columbus received $300 more per pupil than Bexley in the year he reviewed. But Columbus' high economically disadvantaged population means its dollars don't stretch as far. After state weighting, Columbus' per-pupil allotment is $2,000 less than Bexley's. Fleeter's analysis puts the difference at closer to $3,300.

"Bexley has more to spend on the basic nuts and bolts of education than Columbus does," he said. "That's what we want people to understand. Once we understand that, we can start to talk about what's the best investment for our education dollars."