Cleveland Heights University Heights City Schools have undergone unsustainable growth of the EdChoice Scholarships since the 2015-16 school year. With district enrollment hovering slightly above 5,000 students we have gone from 279 EdChoice Scholarships in 2015-16 (5.4% of district enrollment) to 873 in 2018-19 (17% of district enrollment). With the changes in eligibility in the coming year it is anticipated that we will have no fewer than 1,270 enrollees for 2019-20 (which represents close to 25% of our district enrollment). We also have more Petersen/Autism Scholarships proportionally than any district in the state, two thirds or Cleveland with one seventh of its school population.
None of this would hurt CHUH students if the funding for EdChoice and Petersen/Autism covered the cost for the scholarships, but for a few districts, like ours, the state funding per pupil is less than the scholarship given. During the last school year, state aid per pupil in the seven EdChoice districts in Cuyahoga County ranged between $13,307 per pupil in East Cleveland, and $1,900 in Richmond Heights. Cleveland Heights aid was $3,239. The other four districts received between $5,100(Warrensville Heights) and $6,047 per pupil (Maple Heights).
The loss of local dollars is significant. In the 2018-19 school year the difference between CHUH state aid for the students we serve and the dollars deducted for EdChoice Scholarships cost the district $3.7 million and for Petersen/Autism was $2.5 million. The way vouchers are funded is creating a terrible strain on the Ch-UH district’s resources because unlike most EdChoice districts, state aid generated by public school students is being used to fund a large part of the cost of every voucher. The district is at a breaking point and needs relief in order to adequately fund the students it educates.
Since EdChoice Scholarships primarily fund religious education, communities with large populations that traditionally use religious schools are likely to use more vouchers. Vouchers are not distributed equally across communities. The numbers vary widely between 26 in Richmond Heights and 964 in Euclid. CH-UH had 880. The other districts had between 110 and 215 EdChoice vouchers. The larger the number of vouchers the greater the potential cost to public school students. To make matters worse, some families are being recruited to move to our district from out of state to procure scholarships as a manipulation of the EdChoice program – being drawn to having someone else pay for their private education and having never contributed to the tax base of our state. We do not believe that our CHUH students should be subsidizing students who choose not (and have never intended) to attend the public schools; that is what is happening. Our students are being punished because we have a high number of families who want to use religious education and a high number of students with disabilities (both in the district and using Petersen/Autism scholarships). Each student who remains in the public schools is getting less than his or her fair share based on these deductions, less than the state allocation. Less than one-fourth of the students for which we receive aid take close to half of the state allocation. This is not only unfair, but means places a huge burden on the local tax base to educate our students as can be seen by how much we have taxed ourselves to try to keep up.
A few thoughts that could help CHUH survive:
1. The clearest solution would be for state aid to be differentiated within a district based on how the money is used. State Aid for CHUH students who attend the CHUH school district may be funded at $3,300, but the state aid given to our district for EdChoice students should be $4,650 (K-8) or $6,000 (9-12). If this was also done for Petersen/Autism Scholarships as well then we would not have a funding crisis.
2. If application for income based vouchers were required before the traditional voucher was awarded, then there could be some relief to our district. It is impossible to know how much of a relief or if this would solve the problem.
3. Since we are a high poverty district (over 60% free lunch), then perhaps if there were some protections in place for funding the students we serve, then funds could be used from the EdChoice Expansion to fund remaining students. Or, the district could be reimbursed through the EdChoice Expansion budget.
For instance, if the number of vouchers given through an EdChoice designated home school were capped based on its enrollment, then additional applicants could be funded through the expansion.
The first 10% of the designated school’s population would be funded as it is. Above the 10% of the would be funded through EdChoice Expansion.
No family loses its scholarship, the district still loses, but at least there is a predictable cap to our loss.
4. Since CH-UH residents are disproportionately using EdChoice Scholarships, then another possible way to assist would be to determine each EdChoice designated school’s maximum number of awards based on the percentage of students enrolled per school compared to the total number of students enrolled in all Ohio’s EdChoice eligible schools. After a maximum is reached for a school, then if the district is considered high poverty, funds for additional scholarships would be awarded through EdChoice Expansion.
5. The bigger problem is that there is no predictability to how much state aid we will be receiving in any given year. If we have more students with disabilities identified or more students using Petersen/Autism Scholarships we have little left over for our general education population. We can’t control how many identified students there are in any given year, just like we cannot control how many students will be going to parochial schools in any particular year. There should be a cap on the state deduction so that it does not tip the balance towards the students who need to be served by our public schools. We propose the district gets reimbursed for money deducted from our state allocation over 10%.
6. The fairest solution by far would be to adopt the concept in Cupp Patterson that equalizes all districts in terms of deductions by having a separate funding stream for all vouchers, charters, and scholarships. In this way CHUH would need not be an exception in terms of funding, merely a district with a diverse population.