CLEVELAND, Ohio — There is a serious discussion taking place in Columbus right now concerning how we fund education in Ohio.
Countless economic studies have produced uncontroverted data that investing in young people through education provides a phenomenal return.
Yet Ohio’s economy continues to flounder because our Legislature refuses to make this investment.
The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled 25 years ago that Ohio’s overreliance on property taxes in its school funding formula was unconstitutionally unfair to poor urban and rural districts. Although Ohio has devoted more money to funding education in recent years it refuses to correct this unfair funding formula.
As a result, poor urban and rural districts struggle and the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow wider. The disruption in education caused by the pandemic has intensified this gap. We have an opportunity to right past wrongs and remake Ohio as an educational innovator willing to invest in the talent we need to prosper.
How do I know that investing in young people works?
Because at the Third Federal Foundation, where I am the executive director, we’ve made that investment and we have shown that it works.
Eleven years ago, Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon and I designed a cradle to career educational program, called the Slavic Village P-16 as a means of bringing stakeholders, non-profits, residents and institutions together to invest in young people by creating and funding programs designed to provide wraparound services to address literacy, the digital divide, healthcare, safety and stabilize housing.
When we started P-16 all our schools were failing, but the collaborative effort has created some astounding success in moving the needle on academic improvement.
Cleveland has the horrible distinction of having the highest rate of child poverty in the nation. Poverty creates barriers and traumas which schools in the suburbs don’t have to deal with. For poorer districts to thrive they must address poverty related issues.
Over the last 10 years the Third Federal Foundation has spent $1.5 million to $2 million a year and leveraged additional dollars to fund programs designed to remove the barriers that poverty has created in the Slavic Village neighborhood.
What have we invested in?
- We stabilized housing through the Family Stability Initiative. Through the efforts of our partners, CHN Housing Partners and the Legal Aid Society, we provided funds to avoid evictions of more than 200 Slavic Village families and kept 450 Slavic Village children in their same homes and schools.
- Linked 1,250 of our P-16 students to computers and access to the internet through a grant to PC’s for People
- Increased the number of free quality pre-K seats by more than 10 times (from 30 to well over 300 with 60 more to be added next year) and invested in pre-K programs like SPARK and Imagination Library.
- Increased the number of children prepared for kindergarten by 185% since 2012.
- Raised the K-3rd grade reading scores from the state so there are no more F’s.
- Increased the number of students passing the state third grade reading guarantee from under 50% to 92%.
- Helped all our P-16 K-8 schools eliminate F’s on their state report cards and invested through our partners in programs to address issues with health, hunger, literacy and safety.
What we have learned through our long-term investment in our Slavic Village CMSD K-8 schools is that investing in poor children and families is a sound investment.
We have shown you can turn around failing schools.
Now the Ohio Legislature must make that long term investment sustainable by providing the funding to poor urban and rural school districts to provide the wrap-around services needed to remove those barriers poverty creates to eliminate the learning gap between poor and wealthy districts.
The results will be students with the skills to fill 21st century jobs and boost the economy of Ohio.
Kurt Karakul is executive director of the Third Federal Foundation.
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