Study suggests targeting school funding at low-income districts

Richard Vedder at Statehouse press conference

Photo: Mike Elicson

A new statistical analysis of Ohio's public school districts by Ohio University economist Richard Vedder and two graduate students indicates that socioeconomic factors such as parental income are more of an indicator of academic achievement than funding for schools.

In releasing his findings at a press conference Jan. 15 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Vedder suggested that the best way to reduce the state's inequity among public school s is to increase funding to the poorest districts without a tax increase. He said targeting spending at schools in low-income areas will reduce differences in educational opportunity and provide a remedy to current school funding inequities. The release of the study attracted media coverage from across the state.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled last spring that the current public school funding method based on local property taxes is unconstitutional. To remedy the situation, the Leigslature has pl aced a 1 percent sales tax on the May 5 ballot. Half of the money would go to schools and half for property tax relief.

"Spending more money will do little or nothing to improve student performances in most districts," Vedder said. "The exception is in the state's poorest districts, where more money needs to be spent to offset very low income levels and high welfare participation.

"Sending state dollars to these districts should lead to improved learning outcomes and satisfy the court."

Joshua Hall, a graduate student in economics, and Michael Melander, an Honors Tutorial College student, conducted the study with Vedder. Analyzing test scores over a four-year period, the authors used letter grades to rate 607 school districts in the state based on actual performance on the ninth-grade proficiency tests. The statistical model used to analyze differences includes more than 20 socioeconomic, demographic, family and financial factors.

The percentage of students p assing all portions of the ninth-grade proficiency test in the years 1993-96 varied from 14 percent in the Cleveland city school district to more than 95 percent in Oakwood near Dayton. Test scores were particularly high in areas with high proportions of intact families and, probably, a high level of religious involvement.

Research notes are compiled by Kelli Whitlock and Dwight Woodward of University News Services and Periodicals.

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