Changing Ohio’s system for funding public education would bring competition and increased accountability to the state’s public schools, and would immediately transform every child from a financial liability into a desirable asset, argues State Treasurer J. Kenneth Blackwell. Instead of begging school officials to teach their children, every parent, regardless of income, would have the power to get a school’s attention by taking their education funds elsewhere.
“Trust me,” says Blackwell, “no one will feel demeaned when my friend’s daughter and nineteen of her friends show up at a neighboring school, backed by motivated parents and about $100,000.” “Instead of walking into school with a lunchbox and a smile,” says Blackwell, “my friend’s daughter walks in with a lunchbox, a smile, and about $5,000.”
A Republican running for governor, Blackwell is using his campaign to promote a system of child-centered education funding that contrasts sharply with the district-centered system now in place in Ohio and most other states. Child-centered funding, he notes, places the needs of the child above those of politicians and educators.
Under Blackwell’s proposal, the state would provide an annual grant to the parents of children aged 5-18. Parents would be permitted to choose a public, private, or religious school for their children. If parents choose a school whose tuition is less than the state-funded grant, the balance would be held in an Education Savings Account and could be applied to tuition in the future.
A system of child-centered funding gives parents dramatically increased authority over the education of their children. Education funds become the revenues of a particular school only when that school is selected by parents as best meeting the needs of their child. In the present system of district-centered funding, education funds are “owned” by the school district, and school administrators decide how to allocate those funds among teachers, teaching materials, facilities, employee benefits, and the educational needs of children.
Interest in child-centered funding has grown since the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in March that the state’s school funding formula was unconstitutional, sparking an examination of alternative funding mechanisms. In April, Ohio Citizens for Educational Freedom and the Harmony Center, a parents’ rights advocacy group, used the ruling as an opportunity to promote the child-centered funding concept at a meeting in Cincinnati.
“If the tax funding system is going to be changed, we should try to get the money flow to come to the parents, rather than the school board,” Ohio CEF president Paul Mecklenborg told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We want public or non-public school parents to be the ones to have the power and control over where that money goes as far as their children’s schooling is concerned.”
“Our focus is on the child, and every child should be treated equitably,” says David Nordyke, executive director of the Harmony Center.
“The legislature must throw out the current system of education and create a structure that places the needs of children above all others,” declares Blackwell, noting that the late union leader Al Shanker made it clear that “adults come first” in the present system when he said “I’ll start representing students when students start paying union dues.”
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].