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Scraping for dollars

Report finds Southington leads area in student funding equity; it’s not so simple, leaders say

Many Ohio school districts still struggle to provide the best educational opportunities based on the dollars they receive per student, which can vary significantly.

A recent WalletHub report looked at the amount of dollars provided on a per-student basis from local, state and federal sources, and compared that to the average household income in school districts — noting the disparities.

WalletHub offers credit-improvement advice, reviews of financial products and “a diverse community of subject matter experts,” its website states.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics, its researchers found in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, Southington Local School District had the most equitable funding when looking at the amount of money spent per student compared to average household income in the district.

In fact, Southington is the fourth-most equitable district in the state when looking at per-student expenditures compared to average household income.

Only Eastwood Local Schools in Wood County, Wayne Local Schools in Warren County and Continental Local Schools in Putnam County had better per-student expenditures to household income scores.

Southington receives $11,943 per student. The average household income is $63,065.

However, Ohio’s school funding formula primarily is based on property tax values — and not household incomes.

Southington Superintendent Rocco Nero said school funding has always been a complex topic for school administrators and legislators.

“There is not a superintendent in Trumbull County that is not conscious of spending,” Nero said. “Most are working to spend within their means.”

Nero said this is an especially difficult time because of all of the adjustments schools are making because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“With everything we have to purchase and personnel we have to hire, superintendents are concerned,” Nero said. “We have some CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) act money coming in, but it is not enough.”

MORE TO IT

Youngstown City School District spokeswoman Denise Dick questioned the per-pupil expenditure numbers provided by WalletHub. Youngstown ranked 52 out of 610 school districts in Ohio. It, according to the report, is the sixth-most equitable district in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

The district’s per student expenditure is $19,156, according to the report. Dick, however, said the most recent per pupil spending numbers actually are closer to $12,634.

“I don’t think our per-pupil spending has ever been as high as what’s listed in the article,” she said.

Referring to the fact the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled on three separate occasions that the state’s funding formula is unconstitutional and should be based on something other than property taxes, Dick said school funding is a difficult topic.

An issue that policy makers should consider when looking at funding, she said, is that children living in poverty often face challenges that their counterparts in wealthier districts do not — including trauma and homelessness. The WalletHub report lists average household income in Youngstown at $27,361.

For the new school year, Youngstown schools will be providing each of its students with electronic devices as the district prepares to go fully remote for at least a portion of the school year.

“We are setting up a dedicated phone line to respond to families’ technological questions when classes start online,” Dick said.

Equity is not just about money, she said.

“We are establishing a committee focused on equity that will be led by Superintendent Joe Meranto,” she said.

EMPHASIZE CHANGE

Newton Falls Treasurer Terry Armstrong said the income expenditures in the WalletHub report appear to include all of the funds the district receives from the state, as well as local funds.

“We have about a $12 million annual budget and about 1,000 students, which is slightly more than the reported amount,” Armstrong said.

Newton Falls ranked 442 out of the 610 districts in the state, according to WalletHub.

Armstrong said each district’s capacity to raise revenue at the local level is the major component of the distribution of state funds to schools in the current school funding system.

“There is an income-based component in the current funding system but the emphasis remains — and state funds are more heavily based — on local property values to determine a district’s local capacity,” he said.

Armstrong said he believes there is a need to place more of an emphasis on the income levels of residents living in districts, rather than the current system where property valuation is more of a driver in determining a district’s state share of funding.

“One area where the state could be of help to districts in achieving a fairer playing field is with programs such as College Credit Plus,” he said. “This program provides students in seventh through 12th grades the opportunity to attend college classes at no cost to them. When students choose this option the funding used is deducted from the district’s state funds.

“A positive change for districts would be for the state of Ohio to direct pay from its funds rather than districts lose revenue for those students,” Armstrong continued. “This is one example that would help in terms of direct payments rather than it creating a financial challenge for districts who want to promote this opportunity to their students.”

CUSTOM DESIGN

Jackson-Milton schools ranked 202nd in the state among the 610 districts surveyed. It had the fourth-highest rating in the Mahoning / Trumbull county region.

Superintendent Kirk Baker agreed that household income should play a more important role, rather than just property valuation.

“Our local taxpayers are paying a larger percentage of overall revenue for schools,” Baker said. “Fairness in school funding should not just be valuation per pupil, but literally visiting each school and physically viewing the makeup of the district to see the different socio-economic make ups of each school.”

Baker said a funding formula should include more of a custom design for each school district and not just using one valuation figure.

“The federal government, especially with recent funding for the COVID-19 pandemic, has done a pretty good job with help buying supplies and stabilizing the general fund with additional funding,” he said. “With these funds, the school district has been able to purchase the supplies needed and resources that are needed to help all the students.”

Student spending and household income

Most- and least-equitable school districts in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, looking at the amount of dollars provided per student compared to average household income.*

Rank School Score Expenditure Household

district per student incomes

4 Southington 0.12 $11,943 $63,065

18 Western Reserve 1.16 $12,440 $59,972

19 Bristol 1.22 $11,850 $64,155

52 Youngstown 3.01 $19,156 $27,361

53 South Range 3.05 $10,497 $67,965

98 Mathews 5.9 $12,673 $56,061

148 Lowellville 8.92 11,198 $61,181

163 Maplewood 9.7 $12,630 $54,000

167 Sebring 9.8 $15,375 $41,058

187 Bloomfield-Mespo 11.96 $15,063 $55,476

196 Liberty 12.57 $13,771 $46,936

202 Jackson-Milton 12.88 $13,103 $49,886

211 Champion 13.6 $11,479 $57,075

214 Howland 13.87 $12,219 $53,443

229 Joseph Badger 15.62 $11,174 $57,305

237 Canfield 16.22 $10,266 $80,514

Rank School Score Expenditure Household

district per student incomes

278 Lakeview 18.92 $9,913 $61,258

314 LaBrae 22.52 $11,815 $50,192

318 Boardman 22.89 $10,956 $54,005

330 Poland 23.71 $13,136 $43,288

379 West Branch 27.32 $10,436 $53,805

430 Lordstown 31.66 $17,986 $53,481

437 Newton Falls 32.02 $11,316 $46,878

442 Niles 32.41 $12,642 $40,426

465 Campbell 35.15 $14,413 $30,484

477 Weathersfield 36.65 $10,332 $$4,981

485 Hubbard 36.79 $9,938 $50,509

499 McDonald 38.71 $10,028 $48,941

512 Girard 40.84 $11,144 $42,439

521 Austintown 42.87 $9,745 $47,793

522 Warren 43.1 $14,125 $27,105

544 Struthers 46.48 $10,928 $40,092

566 Brookfield 51.83 $9,872 $41,866

*Based on survey of 610 school districts done by WalletHub. Data used to create this ranking was collected from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics.

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