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Discussion examines the relationship of poverty, funding and student achievement

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    Kathryn Kennedy, a CPA and former professor, speaks to the Totally Engaged Americans group Saturday morning in Amherst.

    CARISSA WOYTACH / CHRONICLE

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AMHERST — The relationship between poverty, state and federal funding, and student achievement was a topic of discussion at a presentation Saturday morning.

Kathryn Kennedy, a CPA and former professor at Miami University and University of Cincinnati, has kept a close eye on Lorain Schools and House Bill 70. After moving back to the area, she’s worked to connect the dots on funding and student achievement, presenting some findings at a Totally Engaged Americans meeting in Amherst.

Totally Engaged Americans is a tea party group in Lorain County. Its members include State School Board member Kirsten Hill, whose district includes Lorain County; and Elyria Works Now career counselor Jeff Baxter. Both were present at Saturday’s presentation, with Baxter weighing in on the Works Now model and issues in the county. Lorain Councilwoman Mary Springowski, D-at large, also attended, focusing on Lorain Schools’ continued plight under state control.

Kennedy is working to create a nonprofit, Lorain Works, based on the Cincinnati Works model. It would focus on connecting Lorain residents “willing and able” to work with jobs that pay a living wage, while addressing other underlying issues connected with poverty. She hopes by breaking the generational cycle of poverty, student achievement will increase.

Kennedy’s findings were based in part on District Profile or Cupp reports issued by the Ohio Department of Education. These annual reports track spending and other variables in each district, breaking information down into several categories including per-pupil spending, average administrator salary and property tax per-pupil.

According to the 2018 Cupp report, Lorain’s total per-student expenditure is $13,715.79, which includes administration spending, building operations, instructional costs, supports and staff support services. The state average is $$11,953.14. Lorain’s per-student revenue — which includes its state, local, non-tax and federal income — is $20,755.02. The state average is $14,222.92.

“You’ve got ... (an) increase in funding and nothing has moved,” she said, citing the district’s continued failing grade. “What does that tell you? Something’s not working here.”

She also compared charter and public school performance based on the most recent report card grades. According to the Ohio Department of Education, there are more than 300 community/charter schools in the state.

Her comparison showed 91 percent of charter schools in the state received a D or F in the Achievement component, compared with 51 percent of public schools. She said 36 percent of public school districts in the state are considered “challenged,” providing an opening for charter schools in these districts.

“Initially I thought school choice, that’s great,” Kennedy said. “If I’ve got a choice, and I can send my child to a charter school — which is what that House Bill 70’s doing — if your public school isn’t doing well the state can take it over and then at some point they can be transitioned into a charter school. So I looked at the numbers and I’m thinking ‘well, does that make sense?’ Why would I flip my public schools into charter schools if, to me, a D and F is failing?”

Some attendees disagreed with Kennedy’s overarching statement on charters’ performance, supporting the option of school choice in lower-performing districts as it promotes competition to improve the public school, allows flexibility in teaching styles and one audience member noted “some of the charter schools are doing excellent,” but the state needs to hold those performing poorly accountable similar to their public counterparts.

Kennedy said she has shared her findings with the State School Board, State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria and members of the House and Senate education committees, but has yet to hear back.

“We’re dealing with young people who are supposed to be getting an education,” Kennedy said. “So not only are you not investing the money wisely … they’re not getting an education.”

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.


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