Over the past few years, school-funding policy has been at the forefront of Ohio’s education debates.
Over the past few years, school-funding policy has been at the forefront of Ohio’s education debates. The center of attention has been the plan, named for its legislative sponsors, which would introduce a new funding formula and increase K–12 education spending by about $1.8 billion per year. The House incorporated this plan into its state budget bill earlier this spring. For months, however, its reluctance to rubber-stamp the House approach, saying they wanted to dig into its details and examine other ideas for improving the system.
In early June, Senate lawmakers did as promised and unveiled a different plan to fund schools. They called their blueprint “,” perhaps a jab at the House plan, which isn’t fully paid for over the next biennium (due to its expense, a six year phase in is needed). But what does the Senate funding plan do? The following examines its key features, though note that this piece doesn’t cover the Senate’s school-choice provisions, a topic discussed .
Main takeaways from the Senate funding plan
Raises spending in next two years but doesn’t create long-term obligations
Although less popular with the and , the Senate takes a more conservative approach to funding schools. Its funding formula (more on that below) is paid for over the next two years, and its sticker price doesn’t raise the specter of increasing taxes or raiding other parts of the budget. That being said, the Senate can’t be accused of being Scrooge, either. As the table below shows, it actually outspends the House over the next two years. The main difference, however, is that the Senate formula does not commit Ohio to escalating outlays beyond FY 2023 in the same way that the .
K–12 education spending in the state budget (as-passed by the Senate)
Notes: Table includes education expenditures that flow through the Ohio Department of Education. It excludes state education spending via property-tax reimbursements and school-construction programs, along with federal and local education funds.
Largely maintains the overall structure of Ohio’s current funding formula
Contrary to by some advocates, Ohio has a school-funding formula in statute—and it’s actually pretty decent, in terms of driving state aid to . In fact, just awarded Ohio’s system a B+ when it comes to funding equity. Save for a couple significant exceptions (see the next section), the Senate plan largely maintains the funding framework that was created during the Kasich administration. It keeps intact the main components of the formula—i.e., a core “opportunity grant” designed to ensure that all public schools receive a baseline amount of funding, plus categorical “add-ons” that provide extra support for special learning needs (for an overview of the formula components, see ). The Senate plan also retains, with minor modifications, the , the mechanism by which base amounts are adjusted to ensure more state aid flows to lower-wealth districts. By way of contrast, the House eliminates a few of the categorical add-ons (e.g., capacity aid and K–3 literacy funding)—likely to free money to raise the base amount—and it scraps the state share index, choosing to implement a new distribution model. For those urging a far-reaching overhaul of the formula, the Senate plan may disappoint. But it does have the advantage of retaining a familiar funding structure that, on the whole, does what a formula is supposed to do: deliver more state aid to the neediest districts.
Two major changes to the existing funding formula
Directly funds choice programs in a smart way
Following the House’s lead—and calls from the education community (including )—the Senate moves Ohio to a “direct-funding” model whereby choice programs are paid straight from the state. This would end the controversial payment system in which dollars designated for choice students first pass through their home district. The shift to direct funding must be done with great care so that these programs aren’t subject to line-item veto in a future budget. Compared to the House plan, the Senate language on direct funding offers stronger protections by creating “funding units” that treat charters, STEMs, and scholarship programs as equals to traditional districts when drawing dollars from the state’s main K–12 education appropriation. This language should prevent a future governor from vetoing a choice program, as doing so would eliminate state funding for all public schools.
Creates an affordable base-cost model
The other major departure from current policy—and more in-line with the House plan—is the Senate’s proposal to put “base-cost” calculations in state law. As a quick refresher, the current funding model simply sets a fixed base amount, presently $6,020 per pupil. When used in combination with the state share index, this base determines districts’ core opportunity grant, the largest funding stream in the overall formula. The Kasich administration —justifiably, in my view—the absence of base-cost computations on the grounds that exists to determine the “correct” base amount.
The Kasich approach, however, has been criticized as arbitrary, and the House plan responds by including extensive in its funding model. It uses “inputs,” such as employee compensation and staff-to-student ratios, to create an average statewide base of roughly $7,200 per pupil. Akin to the House, the Senate plan also includes a base-cost model that relies on staff and salary data. Yet its calculations yield a base of just $6,110 per student. The lower base is largely due to the inclusion of a “state share multiplier,” which acknowledges that employee compensation is to some extent driven by supplemental, locally approved taxes. Overall, when compared to the House plan, the Senate’s lower (and arguably more accurate) base-cost model helps to keep the overall price tag in check and does not create uncontrolled spending obligations for future lawmakers.
How the Senate addresses four other critical issues
Prudently maintains current policy for funding interdistict open enrollment
Consistent with a broader push to direct fund education, the House proposed to fund open enrollment directly, as well. Yet the manner by which this shift was made that open-enrollment funding would fall well below current levels, leading districts to close their doors to nonresident students. In testimony, plan advocates suggested that other complicated changes in the formula might offset the apparent funding losses. Perhaps recognizing the uncertainty, the Senate reverts open-enrollment funding to current policy. Under its plan, open enrollees would continue to be funded at the full base amount ($6,110 per pupil), with funds being transferred from a student’s district of residence to her district of attendance.
Restores Student Wellness money but does not increase economically disadvantaged funding
In a move that stirred some debate, the House eliminated $1.1 billion in funding . Instead, its plan used those dollars to cover some of the cost of its base-cost framework and to boost funding for the economically disadvantaged student add-on. The Senate restores some (though not all) of the Student Wellness money proposed by the governor, budgeting $650 million over the next two years for the program—an amount that is just shy of the $675 million spent in FYs 2020–21. Because more Student Wellness funds flow to poorer districts—those with more low-income children, according to U.S. Census data—the restoration of those dollars should mostly counterbalance the Senate’s decision to flat fund the economically disadvantaged component of the formula. At any rate, due to the state’s , the governor’s and Senate’s approach to boosting funding for low-income students through the wellness fund may be preferable until the state devises a better way of .
Includes new supplemental funding for career-technical education (CTE) but regrettably eliminates dollars for industry credentials
In a brand-new funding stream, the Senate creates a CTE “lab program supplement” that would provide an additional $225 and $1,050 per CTE pupil in FY 2022 and 2023, respectively ($70 million over the next biennium). Although it may be a good idea to ratchet up CTE spending, it’s surprising to see this added to the formula. Ohio already includes a categorical add-on for CTE that amounts to roughly $161 million in , and the spending rules for the proposed labs supplement would be the same as those that apply to the existing add-on. Why not simply increase the current CTE categorical amounts? More worrisome, however, is that the Senate scraps $20.5 million in funding proposed by Governor DeWine and backed by the House to support students’ attainment of industry-recognized credentials. Unlike general CTE coursework, high-quality credentials signal to employers that young people have mastered specific skills and open doors to great careers. Unfortunately, the Senate seems to have decided to eliminate the credentials-specific funding to help pay for a broader, more general bump in CTE funding. Hopefully, that choice will be reversed as lawmakers finalize the budget.
Leaves issues with caps and guarantees unresolved
We and others have criticized Ohio’s funding system for its use of “.” As these terms imply, caps restrict the year-to-year increase in state funding that districts can receive, while guarantees shield them from losses. The problem with both of these policies is that they undermine the funding formula and create a measure of unfairness to Ohio districts. One of the strengths of the House plan is that, when fully implemented, it would eliminate caps (though it ). Though the Senate provides “cap relief payments,” it doesn’t phase them out, certainly not in the next biennium at least. Under its plan, 167 districts would remain on the cap in FY 2023, withholding about $440 million after relief payments—about the same situation as , the last time the formula was in effect. Meanwhile, 204 districts would receive extra dollars through the guarantee to the tune of about $182 million, somewhat comparable to what the House does in terms of guarantees over the next two years. In the end, neither the House nor the Senate plan can be fully commended for being a “pure” formula-driven system, and in all likelihood, debates over caps and guarantees will continue.
Anyone who has tracked Ohio’s school-funding debates know one thing: It’s complicated. Yet despite all the complexities, there seems to be growing agreement on a few key principles: the need to steer state dollars to schools that serve more low-income and special-need children, funding schools based on their actual headcounts, and providing every student, no matter her school of choice, the resources needed to succeed. The Governor, along with House and Senate lawmakers, have all put forward ideas that would move Ohio closer toward those principles. As they sort through the details and finalize the budget, state legislators should keep these big ideas in mind.
Earlier this year, Governor DeWinethat all public schools create and publish plans to address student learning loss caused by the pandemic. A quick look at the reveals a wide variety of intervention efforts. Ohio’s two largest districts— and —have taken a similar approach. Both plan to offer summer school to all students on a much broader scale than in years past, and their programming will offer academic and enrichment activities.
Summer school is a wise choice for obvious reasons. The easiest way to make up for lost time is to reclaim time that isn’t typically dedicated to school—weeknights, weekends, and breaks like summer. Weaving enrichment activities into summer school is also smart, because it’s the nonacademic offerings—the “fun” stuff—that will get kids excited about enrolling in and consistently attending school during the summer. Officials in the Cleveland Municipal School District even said as much when.
But enrichment opportunities aren’t just “fun” stuff. Many of the lessons kids learn in classrooms can be reinforced on athletic fields, in studios, and on the stage.shows that field trips help students improve critical thinking and increase factual knowledge. And enrichment activities offer an ideal opportunity to focus on social-emotional learning, which is not only beneficial for students’ mental health but can also impact academic performance.
Now more than ever, enrichment should be a priority. Covid lockdowns that kept us all in our homes for months revealed just how vital these activities are to development. Yet for millions of children, the sudden dearth of opportunities brought about by the pandemic wasn’t much different from their normal circumstances. America might be called the land of opportunity, but—which means students from low-income families lose out.
The best way to eliminate this opportunity gap is to address it head on. One way is by providing schools and other after-school and youth service providers with funds to conduct programs and expand access to free opportunities. Another way is to get dollars directly into parents’ hands and allow them to tailor enrichment activities to their child’s needs and interests.
The latter approach is exactly what the Ohio Senate did in its, which created the Afterschool Child Enrichment (ACE) educational savings account. This program would provide families whose income is at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty line with $500 that can be used to pay for a variety of enrichment activities for children between the ages of six and eighteen. Families are prohibited from using the funds to purchase electronic devices, but they can spend them on any of the following approved activities:
- Before or after-school educational programs
- Day camps, including camps for academics, music, and arts
- Tuition for learning extension centers
- Tuition for learning pods
- The purchase of curriculum and material for homeschool families
- Educational, learning, or study skills services
- Field trips to historical landmarks, museums, science centers, and theaters
- Language classes
- Instrument lessons
In order to administer the program, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) would be required to contract with a vendor, with preference given to one that can provide customer-service contact information and a free smart phone application through which parents can apply for the funds. The vendor would also be responsible for monitoring accounts, recovering money that was spent in unauthorized ways, and providing ODE with a comprehensive list of purchases that were made via ACE accounts.
It’s worth noting that eligibility is relatively broad. Families must meet the income requirement, but ACE accounts can be opened for any student who attends a public or nonpublic school, as well as for those who are homeschooled. The downside to such extensive availability, however, is that demand could rapidly outpace supply. The bill uses federal coronavirus school relief appropriations to fund the program, and although it allocates $50 million for FY 2022 and $75 million for FY 2023, that’s not enough to cover all eligible students. Because ACE accounts will be established on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s possible that interested families could miss out if they don’t apply soon enough.
The program has also been limited to two school years. That makes sense, because it’s more or less a pilot program and because federal relief dollars have an expiration date. But the deadline does raise questions about what happens after 2023. Opportunity gaps preexist the pandemic, and two years of enrichment savings accounts is unlikely to eliminate it. When federal relief dollars run out, there will still be families who need financial assistance to access the same enrichment opportunities that are readily available to their more affluent peers. If this innovative program proves successful, Ohio legislators should consider finding ways to continue funding it beyond 2023.
All things considered, though, the Senate deserves plenty of praise for tackling the opportunity gap. Conference committee debates over the budget are looming, and it’s impossible to predict whether the Senate’s ACE accounts will become a reality. But given the need that enrichment savings accounts address—and the potential positive outcomes—here’s hoping this program not only makes into the enacted budget but becomes a permanent part of Ohio’s education landscape, as well.
Across the nation, state lawmakers have been heeding the call for parents to have more control over their children’s education. Recognizing that there is no “one-size-fits-all” model that meets every kid’s need, legislators have been actively strengthening school-choice policies and expanding options for families. Florida, for instance, recently expanded its nation-leading private school scholarship programs. Iowa just significantly improved its charter school law. West Virginia and Kentucky created brand-new educational savings account (ESA) programs that offer parents flexibility in how they meet (and pay for) their kids’ educational needs.
So far this year, Ohio’s education debates have paid scant attention to choice. Lawmakers have focused on technical issues with the school funding formula and overall spending levels. But that changed last week with the unveiling of the Senate’s education plan for the state budget for the fiscal years 2022–23 (HB 110). If enacted, its proposals would be a huge step forward in putting families’ needs and wants at the center of education policy. Here are highlights of the Senate approach:
- Removes caps on the number of EdChoice scholarships available. EdChoice, the largest of Ohio’s scholarship programs, allows children from low- and middle-income households to attend private schools of their choice. The program has grown significantly over the past decade, but legislators have limited the number of available scholarships, which in the past has left some children in the lurch. The Senate plan would ensure that any eligible student applying for an EdChoice scholarship receives one.
- Increases the EdChoice and Cleveland scholarship amounts. The EdChoice and Cleveland scholarship amounts have fallen well behind public school spending. Today, they’re worth just $4,650 in grades K–8 and $6,000 in grades 9–12, even as Ohio’s public schools spend on average $14,000 per pupil. The Senate plan narrows that gap somewhat by lifting these scholarship amounts to $5,500 and $7,500 in grades K–8 and 9–12, respectively. Importantly, it also ensures that in future budgets, scholarship amounts will automatically rise in proportion to any increase in public schools’ base funding. This provision would create more predictability and fairness for families that rely on these programs.
- Provides full funding for Ohio’s quality charter school program. Back in 2019, Governor DeWine and Lieutenant Governor Husted shepherded through a new initiative that drives extra dollars to high-performing public charter schools. For such schools, the program narrows longstanding charter funding gaps and helps to build the schools’ capacity to serve more students. To his credit, Governor DeWine remained committed to this fund in his second budget, ramping up the appropriation to $54 million per year, which should more adequately cover the $1,750 per economically disadvantaged pupil that qualifying schools are supposed to receive. In an unfortunate move, the House cut funding for this valuable program, but Senate lawmakers restored it to the governor’s level.
- Boosts facility support for charter and independent STEM schools. A recent study by the national education group ExcelinEd found that Ohio funds just 18 percent of charter facility costs, thereby forcing schools to dip into operating dollars to cover rent or mortgage payments. To assist charters with their facility expenses, the Senate plan increases the state’s allowance from $250 to $750 per pupil. Ohio’s seven independent public STEM schools, which are funded much like charters, would also receive these dollars. Moreover, the Senate plan strengthens the right of first refusal law by requiring districts to offer to charters an “unused facility” for lease or purchase when less than 60 percent of the facility is used for direct academic instruction (under current rules, districts could make token use of a facility to prevent it from going to a charter school). Last, the Senate lays out a framework for a credit-enhancement program that could significantly reduce charters’ borrowing costs for school construction or renovation; however, before the program launches, it wisely calls for a study to ensure that all the details are covered.
- Removes geographic restrictions on startup charter schools. Ever since Ohio passed its original charter law in 1997, the state has largely restricted charter schools to urban communities—where many brick-and-mortar charters have excelled at educating students. But charters in other states with less restrictive policies have also greatly benefitted middle- and upper-income families. In a long overdue change, the Senate would scrap these arbitrary geographic restrictions, creating the potential for new charter school formation throughout Ohio.
- Opens the door to faith-based public charter schools. The Senate eliminates a requirement that charter schools be “nonsectarian,” thus allowing for religious charter schools (in terms of both their programs and who runs them). This idea recently gained steam when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down decisions that protect religious freedoms under the First Amendment. If the Senate approach becomes law, this could be a huge step forward for choice—and accountability. In the short term, the provision may be used to convert existing religious schools to charter status (which unlocks additional state dollars). Over the longer haul, it also has the potential to draw more faith-based organizations into the education marketplace and thus open new options to Ohio parents. Moreover, the proposal would heighten accountability. Charter schools, unlike private schools, receive state report cards, are overseen by state-approved authorizers that have the authority to close schools, and are subject to federal and state interventions due to underperformance.
- Offers modest tax relief for families choosing other kinds of schools or homeschooling. Although most of the attention in the school-choice movement focuses on public charter schools and private school scholarships, thousands of Ohio families choose to homeschool their children or enroll them in nonchartered, non-tax-supported schools (private schools that decline all taxpayer support, including scholarships). Recognizing the financial burden of these options, the Senate plan provides a tax credit to parents choosing them. Homeschooling families would receive a small $250 nonrefundable tax credit, akin to the teacher tax deduction for educational expenses. Low-income families enrolling their kids in nonchartered, non-tax-supported schools would become eligible for a $2,500 nonrefundable tax credit to offset the cost of tuition.
- Creates an ESA program to support afterschool learning. It has been well documented that low-income students tend to have fewer enrichment opportunities. Unfortunately, at the state level, there have been few focused efforts to support out-of-school learning. In an innovative model, the Senate plan creates an ESA program that provides $500 per year to low-income parents that would help them pay for afterschool programs, day camps, or tutoring. Students in public school, private school, or homeschool would be eligible to participate in the ESA, and their parents must apply for the funds. The Senate funds the program through federal Covid-relief monies ($125 million over the biennium), so the ESA would be temporary at least for now. However, if it proves successful, lawmakers should certainly consider making this a permanent program in future years.
The Senate plan sets forth a bold new vision for K–12 education that puts more power and control into the hands of Ohio families. It supports parents’ inherent right to educate their children in the manner they see fit, and it promotes educational quality. The proposals would also make Ohio one of the nation’s most choice-friendly states, rivalling places like Arizona, Florida, and Indiana. As the governor and lawmakers from both chambers hammer out the final budget legislation, they should enthusiastically follow the Senate’s lead on education choice.
It’s been a busy budget season filled with heated debates over how to revise Ohio’s school-funding formula, testing and graduation requirements, school report cards, and parental choice. The June 30 deadline for a finalized budget is quickly approaching, and lawmakers now face the difficult task of reconciling the three very different budget proposals put forth by Governor DeWine, the House, and the Senate.
Each version of the budget has plenty of positives and at least a few negatives. It’s likely that much of the debate during conference committee will be devoted to the funding formula. But there are also a number of other provisions within each version that are particularly promising and worthy of attention. Below are summaries of two such proposals from each version that lawmakers will hopefully include in the finalized budget bill they send to the governor.
The Governor’s office
High-quality charter school funding
One of the most talked-about topics during Governor DeWine’s first budget cycle was the Quality Community Schools Support Program, which increased state aid for high-performing charter schools by $30 million. This money specifically targets high-poverty charter schools that meet quality benchmarks. Though not sufficient to entirely erase the stubborn funding gap between charters and traditional public schools, it is a big step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the funding wasn’t enough to provide each qualifying school with the full $1,750 per economically disadvantaged student that was intended—allocations were reduced to fit the $30 million appropriation. Fortunately, Governor DeWine recognized this issue and raised the funding amount for quality charters to $54 million per year in his proposed budget. The importance of this funding cannot be overstated, as it would, among other things, make it possible for the state’s best charter networks to expand their reach and open more schools.
Funding for industry-recognized credentials
Charter funding isn’t the only policy that retained Governor DeWine’s support. His budget also prioritized industry-recognized credentials in two major ways. First, it would allow schools to apply for reimbursements that cover the costs of programs that help students attain either an industry-recognized credential or a journeyman certificate recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. Second, the Innovative Workforce Incentive Program (which was originally created in the previous budget but wasn’t officially established, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting budget cuts) would pay schools $1,250 for each qualifying credential that students earn. Both these proposals could go a long way toward helping students earn meaningful credentials that give them a leg up in the workforce.
Direct funding for charter students
For years, Ohio’s traditional public districts and school-choice programs have been at odds. One of their primary disputes is how the state funds choice programs. The current model uses a “pass-through” method, which subtracts money from the total share of a district’s state aid whenever a student opts to attend a charter or STEM school or use a private school voucher. Although it seems reasonable that state aid allocated for educating a child should follow said child to the school that’s actually doing the work of educating them, traditional districts have long complained that they’re being “robbed” of funding. One way to ease the tension is for the state to directly fund students who choose to attend other schools, and that’s exactly what the House budget would do. It’s important to note that this change doesn’t alter the amount of funding that choice students receive—it merely changes the method through which the state disburses funds.
Studying the impact of College Credit Plus
College Credit Plus (CCP), Ohio’s dual-enrollment program, gives students in grades 7–12 the opportunity to take credit-bearing college courses if they meet certain readiness standards and are admitted to a college or university. The program has proven to be immensely popular since it was overhauled in 2014, and there are plenty of feel-good anecdotes about students who benefited from advanced coursework and families who saved money on college costs to boot. Hard data, however, is far more difficult to come by. That might be why the House budget calls for the Departments of Education and Higher Education to publish a report on the cost-effectiveness of CCP, as well as whether students do indeed save money on college tuition and reduce the amount of time it takes to earn a degree. These data are crucial for transparency purposes and for identifying ways to improve the program.
Despite playing a vital role in the academic, physical, and emotional wellbeing of students, enrichment activities such as sports, music, and arts are often dismissed as “fun stuff.” Even worse, access to enrichment activities often depends on family income—which means students from low-income families lose out. Thankfully, the Senate has offered up a promising solution. The Afterschool Child Enrichment (ACE) educational savings account would provide families whose income is at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty line with $500 per year that can be used to pay for a variety of enrichment activities, including tutoring, arts camps, field trips, and instrument or foreign-language lessons. Any student who attends a public, nonpublic, or home school is eligible. The program would be funded through federal coronavirus-relief dollars—$50 million for FY 2022 and $75 million for FY 2023—and the accounts would be available to families on a first-come, first-served basis.
Increasing access to and funding for EdChoice scholarships
Ohio’s largest private school voucher program, the EdChoice Scholarship Program, currently serves over 30,000 students. It’s grown rapidly since it was first established back in 2005, but caps on the number of available scholarships have shut out some interested families in the past. In its budget proposal, the Senate opted to resolve this issue by removing the scholarship caps. But it didn’t stop there. Senators also increased funding amounts for scholarships—from $4,650 to $5,500 for students in grades K–8 and from $6,000 to $7,500 for students in grades 9–12—and included provisions that would automatically raise these amounts in proportion with any increases to the base funding amounts of traditional public schools. These are important changes, as they ensure that families have more options and that private school choice programs are funded on a more equitable scale.
It’s impossible to predict whether these proposals will make it into the finalized budget. But each of them definitely has the potential to improve education for kids, and that’s what matters most. As lawmakers decide what to cut and what to keep over the next few weeks, they should ensure these six great ideas make it across the finish line.
A trio of researchers from the University of Chicago, MIT, and UC Berkeley recently released a working paper that indicates a multitude of positive long-term effects—very long term, in fact—associated with attendance at public preschool. The researchers take advantage of the fact that since the late 1990s, Boston Public Schools (BPS) has operated a large preschool program that assigns available seats via a centralized lottery system to all four year olds who reside within the district. The study considers more than 4,000 randomized four-year-old applicants from admissions cohorts falling between 1997 and 2003 and compares students who were offered a seat in the program to those who were not. It is important to note that there is no determination that any of the students offered a seat actually accepted the offer, although it is highly likely that they did. The model in use here creates an estimate of effects. Though the report and accompanying publicity use “enrollment” and “attendance” interchangeably—as does this review—these are mathematical constructs, and the true amount of treatment received by any student is unknown. Ditto for the control group, many of whom likely sought out and perhaps participated in another preschool program when not offered a seat in the BPS program.
Emphasizing the very long-term nature of effects, the analysis leads with the finding that those offered seats in BPS preschool were 5.5 percentage points more likely than their nonoffered peers to attend a four-year college in the fall after their projected high school graduation. Preschool enrollment also led to a 5.4 percentage point increase in the probability of a student ever enrolling in any college. Estimates for college graduation are also positive though less precise, as fewer students had reached the typical age of that milestone by the time of the analysis.
Preschool enrollment was found to boost the likelihood of high school graduation by six percentage points. Preschool enrollment also caused a nine-percentage-point increase in SAT test taking and raised the probability of students scoring above the bottom quartile and in the top quartile of the SAT distribution. Oddly, however, there was no evidence of impacts on student achievement as measured by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).
In terms of nonacademic effects, preschool attendance significantly reduced the frequency of suspensions and the probability that students were incarcerated while in high school. Aggregating several measures into a summary index, the researchers found that preschool enrollment improves high school disciplinary outcomes by 0.17 standard deviations on average.
What to make of all this? One possible response is elation—these results seem to validate the value of public preschool. Another possible response is caution. This report appears to refute the phenomenon of fadeout of preschool benefits, but it has been observed so often in the early years of elementary school that some additional evidence backing up the long-term effects in this report must be called for. If fadeout is due to the educational environment into which tiny graduates matriculate, surely that environment will take precedence in setting long-term outcomes, too. After all, it’s a long way from circle time to commencement time.
SOURCE: Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher R. Walters, “The Long-Term Effects of Universal Preschool in Boston,” National Bureau of Economic Research (May 2021).
At Fordham, we’re not big on grand anniversary galas, the sort of fancy events where organizations toot their own horns and bask in the praise and accolades of longtime friends. We’re not that kind of boastful. But as we get ready to reopen our offices after the long pandemic misery, it’s worth noting that 2021 marks our twenty-fifth anniversary. Yup, a quarter century of the modern, education-centric Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
With the help of a modest midcentury estate accumulated by Mr. Fordham (who passed away the year I was born) and bequeathed to the Foundation by his widow, Thelma Fordham Pruett, we were able in 1996 to reboot that entity as an education-reform organization with one foot planted in Washington and the other in the Buckeye State, which had been the focus of Mrs. Pruett’s philanthropy.
“We” wasn’t just me. Far-sighted trustees on the Dayton side included attorney Tom Holton, who’s still on the board, and longtime community college president David Ponitz. Founding trustees with a national perspective included Bruno Manno (now emeritus on the board but still an active advisor) and—yup—then-ardent ed reformer Diane Ravitch, with whom I had founded the Educational Excellence Network, the work of which we melded into the new Fordham venture. Gregg Vanourek signed on almost immediately to help lead that venture, and in short order, we were joined by the (very young) Mike Petrilli.
Keep the timing in mind. Bill Clinton was president. The Charlottesville summit was just a few years in the past. “Goals 2000” and the “Improving America’s Schools Act” were recently passed. The “new NAEP” had just recently begun offering state-level results to states that wanted them, and its young governing board (which I had recently served on) was still arguing with those that didn’t like its “achievement levels” (one reason was the bleak news that those new standards conveyed: on the 1996 assessment, just 24 percent of U.S. eighth graders were proficient or above in math). Two dozen states had passed charter laws, but only 110 charter schools were operational across the country.
At first, we functioned like any other small private foundation, with modest grants to other organizations doing useful work in the ed-reform space. Soon, though, we saw that more was needed and that we had to stimulate and commission people to engage in studies that needed to be done. Sometimes we had to do them ourselves. One line of inquiry was whether those novel academic standards that states were adopting in response to Charlottesville and the new federal laws were any good. So we launched what has become something of a Fordham brand, periodic reviews of state academic standards, the first of which—a critical look at the ELA standards in the twenty-eight states that had them at the time—was done by Sandra Stotsky. It appeared in 1997. Here’s how I introduced it:
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is pleased to sponsor this path-breaking appraisal of state English standards by Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the eminent authority on English-language education. We expect it to inform and illumine discussion of just what children should know and be able to do in this most central of subjects as they make their way through America's primary and secondary schools.
Unlike earlier (and often controversial) efforts to set "national standards" for education, the discussion about standards that matters most-and that this report focuses on-is the discussion taking place at the state level. Constitutional responsibility for providing education rests with the states, and it is the states that (in most, though not all, cases) have finally begun to accept the obligation to set academic standards and develop tests and other assessments keyed to those standards.
Back then, a couple of other organizations (including the AFT) were also reviewing state standards, but they’ve since quit. Because we continue to believe that states’ expectations for what their schools should teach and their students should learn is the starting point for just about everything else, we’ve stuck with this kind of analysis—and you can expect a blockbuster Fordham review of state standards for civics and U.S. history next week!
Of course, that’s not all we’ve done. Two hundred-plus studies. Close to a thousand weekly Gadflies and Ohio Gadflies. Multiple thousands of blog posts. Op-eds and articles and books beyond counting. A forceful presence in our hometown of Dayton, which is also base camp for our charter-authorizing work across Ohio. A remarkable team on the ground in Columbus, assisting (and sometimes prodding) state policymakers to do the right thing when it comes to academic standards, accountability, and school choice. And so much more, including dozens of superb colleagues over the years in all three of our outposts. It helps that we remain almost the only ed-reform organization in America with both a national focus and a solid on-the-ground presence in one state, much less the only one that’s both think tank, charter sponsor, and what my friend Lamar Alexander calls a “do-tank.”
Yes, I’m proud, you betcha, though I haven’t led this multifaceted effort for going on seven years (that Mike and I see the world through similar lenses about 90 percent of the time has been a wonderful bonus). Fordham has never lost sight of the two original signposts on its reform path: rigorous standards and results-based accountability on one side and quality school choices on the other, both intended to advance excellence while equalizing opportunity for children from every background to partake of, and succeed at, the best that American education has to offer. But we’re not blind, so along that path we’ve added other timely themes and specialties, ranging from gifted education to sensible SEL to quality CTE. We’ve been fearless, almost always, in speaking the truth as we see it no matter what powerful interest (or funder) we may upset. We’ve gored some ungrateful oxen. We’ve occasionally been light hearted. We’ve built bridges, where we could, across all manner of political and philosophical divides, believing—old-fashioned as it sounds in these polarized times—that it’s possible to team up on some things while doing battle over others yet remain on speaking terms throughout.
A quarter century on, don’t expect to be invited to a big fancy party. But—like it or not—don’t expect us to go away, either. The education-reform effort is generational and is scarcely begun. Fordham intends to see it through.