Friday, January 26, 2007

Education Amendment Sec. (D) -(E): GSM

Follow along as I read out loud.

Sections (D)(3)-(4) and (E) are where the amendment gets financial on us. After the State Board of Education determines the components of a quality education in (D)(2), it then does another study in (D)(3) to determine how much those components cost.

This two-part approach – determine the components of a quality education, then determining how much they cost – directly responds to one of the central concerns the Supreme Court had in the DeRolph case. The Court found that Ohio’s education funding was residual. That is, the state figured out about how much it had to spend on education and that’s what it spent.

Residual funding, by the way, can be quite the exercise. The State funds schools using a per-pupil formula, with various add-ons and multipliers mixed in. To engage in residual funding, the State presumably figures out how much they have, runs the formula backwards to figure out what that comes to on a per-pupil basis, sets the per-pupil or foundation amount and tinkers with the variables, then the whole thing runs forward and you have a school system.

The two-part approach in (D)(2)-(3) tries to get away from all that. There is something to be said for determining what makes a high-quality education independent of cost consideration. One of the strengths of the AWNN is the requirement that the state cost out what is needed for schools.

Next, (D)(4) which basically says that the General Assembly can’t stop the School Facilities program.

Section (E) says as much as you are going to get about how this is funded. The General Assembly must deposit in the Education Trust Fund money enough to fund what the Department of Education has determined constitutes a high quality education. The only funding mechanism identified is the one already in place – net proceeds from the Lottery. Aside from that, it’s up to the GA to come up with the money.

All this is why critics of the proposal say the amendment has no cap. In fact, the proponents concede – nay celebrate – the fact. They even graphically represent it. I’ve reproduced art from a page on the website which they use to illustrate the effect of the amendment. In converting the image from .gif to .jpeg, my software made it look more reasonable by creating discrete gradients. Check out the original where the top of the post-amendment graph dissolves effervescently into the heavens.

The difficulty facing the framers is that a specific budget cap arguably doesn’t really belong in a Constitution. Constitutions are for procedures and principles. Budget figures belong in budget bills. But it’s a challenge to proponents of this amendment to reassure voters that the state can sustain amount of spending the amendment will require. (And it will be a challenge to explain why they shy away from budget specific figures for K-12 education when they get specific on other areas.)

Once this thing is in effect, it’s an open question what a court would do if the General Assembly just said, “Eh,” and refused to fully fund the Education Trust Fund. It’s hard to imagine any court, much less the one we have now, ordering a legislature to impose a tax. Theoretically, a court could order deposits into the Fund, but what if all the revenue streams are already encumbered? The bottom line – there does come a point where the legislature is still the legislature.

5 comments:

bonobo said...

What I still can't follow is this: Right now, the state comes up with a figure that it calls the "cost of a basic education." This is a single number (given in the graphic), that gets tinkered with for a variety of reasons. Under the AWNN, the number is the sum of the components, but the amendment specifically states that the components need not be the same for each individual student, and strongly implies that they won't be the same by including components for gifted education, low-income children, etc. as necessary components. So is the cost of a high quality education the sum total of all of the possible components that could be necessary for a particular child, even if it is not possible for a single child to require all of them? Does every kid have a different cost?

Pho said...

Righteous questions all, Bo. There's some play in this and, given that the amendment doesn't change the basic per-student funding formula, the Board will have a job making all works.

The AWNN is about guaranteeing total expenditures, so the costing out study need only figure out what programs we need and how much of each, then total it all up. That's the money that goes into the Trust Fund. I don't think the Amendment would require setting aside funds for every child to have a slot in every program. If they did, the Accountability Commission would certainly right a report.

Anyway, they come up with a state total and the GA has to deposit that amount in the Trust fund. But then distributing it is a challenge, one that has to be up to the General Assembly, which opens up possiblities of messing things up, intentionally or not.

bonobo said...

Okay. And thank you once again. It looks like you see where I'm going with this. I'm really not trying to be a pain, I just have this scenario in my head... At some point, in some district, somebody is going to look at their district's budget and claim that their kid is not getting a HQPE, because the district is underfunding Component X. The district will say that it is impossible to fund every component because they have a higher than average number of special needs kids, and the state doesn't take that fully into account. The GA says that they only have an obligation to make sure the district gets so many dollars per pupil. The family sues to get a HQPE, which is their fundamental right... what happens?

Pho said...

If you can hold out for a few posts until I get to Sec. (E)(3), I'll take a shot at answering. The short answer is: yes, that's something people will duke out in court.

Daniel Jack Williamson said...

I knew it. I knew there was a carrot in the "fundamental right" language for the trial lawyers.

This is just a win-win for everybody, right? (sarcasm)