Financial Disparity Between School Districts (Franklin County, OH)

Written by Abigail Christiansen, Littzy Caceres, Jarod Lutz, and Sam Hackenbracht


Picture of a calculator next to a spreadsheet with numbers and a hand written note that reads "Can we do this?"The financial disparity between school districts in Franklin County, Ohio is an important issue that needs to be addressed. While there are certainly those working toward improvements, this is a task that cannot be done by a few or without dedicated collaboration. An understanding of the issue is the first step toward change and can inform teachers on how best to empathize with and support each other across districts. It can also help to inform voters, including teachers, on the issues pertinent to change. 

District Funding Sources in Ohio

The amount of funds that each school district in Ohio receives is determined by a funding formula. Currently, that formula is temporary and was intended to be a transitory placeholder between Ohio governors Strickland and Kasich due to budgetary restraints (Borchardt, 2019). However, a new formula was proposed in early 2019 by Ohio House Representatives Cupp and Patterson. This new formula is currently known as House Bill 305 and is before the Ohio House of Representatives’ Finance Committee for review. If passed, the new formula would be implemented over a four year period to ease the transition (Cupp & Patterson, 2019).

As it stands, the new funding formula would determine each district’s financial need seperate from one another (it is currently determined across neighboring districts) according to set values for each needed staff member and other educational needs. The district’s ability to provide funds through local property tax would then be determined 60% by property values and 40% by resident income. This second amount would be applied to the first and the state of Ohio would provide the deficit through a block grant to be used at the district’s discretion. Additional state funds would be allocated to districts according to the number of students in special education, gifted education, ELL, and those coming from below the poverty line. In addition, the state would provide one year of preschool for every four-year-old living in poverty and provide each student in Ohio with a digital device for learning (Borchardt, 2019).

Disparities Between Low and High-Income Districts in Franklin County

Bar graph showing the State, Local, and Federal funding amounts for Columbus City Schools and Upper Arlington Schools, with a fourth bar for expenditures in each. The amounts for CCS are $7,742.61, $10,083.25, $1,997.86, and $14,995.60 respectively. The amounts for UA are $2,273.66, $13,466.58, $316.54, and $15,585.94 respectively.

While the current distribution of funds as shown in Figure 1 may appear more or less equal, it does not show the financial disparity that the two sets of students begin their education with. In 2018, the average student in Columbus City Schools came from a household with an annual income of $47,262, whereas the average student in Upper Arlington Schools came from a household with an annual income of $154,963. While 100%, or 50,050, of students enrolled at CCS were considered disadvantaged, only 3.08%, or 180 students, of those at UA were also considered disadvantaged. In addition, CCS had more disabled (16.86%, 8,438 students) and ELL students (16.56%, 8,288 students) compared to UA (15.23% or 891 students and 1.48% or 87 students, respectively). This shows that the schools in CCS need more funding for disabilities and language learning as well as free and reduced lunches and breakfasts. Also, while both school districts funnelled most of their funds toward instructional costs ($7,663.33, 51% at CCS; $10,144.43, 65% at UA), there was a significant gap in available funds per pupil ($2,481.10) (Ohio Department of Education, 2019).

Columbus City Schools: Overview 

Ohio is a growing community in education with amazing resources and many different pathways, yet, when it comes to poverty in education, the disparities are endless.  There are schools with an IPad/Laptop for every student. There are schools that offer many Advanced Placement classes, and college courses for many students to take for college credit. Teachers are coming out of college and wanting to work at these schools instead of the poorer ones. Columbus City Schools is the largest district in Ohio, and just one out of many in Ohio that is poorly funded, with many students who deserve more in education. 

How it Affects Students 

Picture of a circled capital D in red marker.

Figure 2. Columbus city schools state report card average is a D (Rantela, ABC6, 2019). 
(Retrieved from Littzy Caceres)

Many schools in the Columbus City Schools district are old enough that they cannot provide air conditioning for students. Sometimes the Columbus city school district closes school due to most not being able to work in the heat conditions, but sometimes they do not. Students will not be motivated to work to their best ability if they are experiencing heat exhaustion. Many school officials have tried their best to try and fix the situation, such as with “Operation Fix it” (Alissa, Dispatch, 2019). “Operation Fix it” brought many schools the air conditioning they needed and fixed other major problems. This is the first of many changes that we need to combat disparities within districts. 


It is not just Columbus City Schools that is suffering from poor conditions. Due to “redlining”, many students are not provided with the same opportunities as others based on where they live. “Elements of education redlining include: Poor and minority students systematically pushed into already-underperforming schools; …” (Schott Foundation). Historically, this is due largely to the race of the students. A house in one area could have a student walking home with an iPad while a student that lives just blocks away does not have their own set of technology for education. The differences between one school and another based on the income of students affects their opportunities in education. Where is the change we need? 

Upper Arlington Schools: Overview

Upper Arlington School District is viewed as one of the top districts in Columbus when it comes to quality of education. Their schools are predominantly white, with over 83% of their students being Caucasian, 0.9% African American, and 6.4% Asian. The Board lists their total enrollment for the 2018 fiscal year at 5,852 (Ohio Department of Education, 2019). 

General Fund Overview 

Upper Arlington School District reported a 9% increase in total revenue and resources for the 2018 school year. This is primarily due to a $3.75 million school-operating levy passed by the community in November of 2017. The district also saw a 5% increase in total expenditures and services. This is mostly related to an increase of staffing to accommodate the growth in enrollment (

Where the Money Comes From 

Upper Arlington receives its money from three sources: local property taxes, state support, and other operational revenues such as tuition, activity fees, and investment donations. The district gets the largest portion of its funding from local property taxes. According to their district profile, 84% of revenue comes from property taxes, 14% from state funding, and about 2% comes from other operational revenues. Upper Arlington is viewed as a wealthier

district and receives less state funding than most schools because of their high property valuation and high income per pupil. A portion of the state aid Upper Arlington receives ($3,962,000) comes from a calculation involving student enrollment. The majority of state support (approximately $9,016,000) derives from Homestead and Rollback payments, which represent the portion of the local tax bill paid by the state instead of the local taxpayer (

For FY18: $80,105 in Local Taxes, $13,291 in state support, $904 in investment income, $315 in tuition and fees, $610 in other revenue, and $89 in Transfers/Advances from other funds for a total of $95,314

Figure 3. Image retrieved from

Where the Money Goes 

Upper Arlington spends its money in a number of ways. The main services they fund include student instruction, pupil support, staff support, administration, business support, operation and maintenance, transportation, and central support. Student instruction is the main spending category with almost 65% of its revenue going here. Operation and maintenance costs are related to keeping a safe building environment along with supporting custodial services. Pupil support is the other notable category that includes guidance services, safety monitors, nurses, and therapy/psychological services. 6.3% of funding goes to the administrative staff and the Board of Education. The last notable spending category is instructional staff support, which receives 5.1% of total funding. This category includes library services, staff training, curriculum development, and teacher aids. The exact dollar amount along with the percentage of funds for these categories is shown in the graph below (

For FY18: $57,368 to instruction, $6,319 to pupil support, $4,493 to instructional staff support, $5,562 to administration, $2,677 to business support/financial, $7,143 to operation and maintenance, $1,776 to transportation, $1,430 to central support, $1,474 to other, and $167 to Transfers/Advances to other funds for a total of $88,409.

Figure 4. Image retrieved from

Academic Outcomes 

According to the Ohio School Report Cards website, on which each Ohio district is given a letter grade, the district of Upper Arlington has an overall grade of “B”, a considerably impressive grade to achieve. Interestingly, Upper Arlington is a white majority district. While this does not affect the overall grade directly, it does affect funding which affects the overall quality of education. Upper Arlington also has a grade “A” graduation rate which means that the district does a good job of preparing their students for state tests and other graduation requirements. They also have an “A” for the category labeled Prepared for Success which means that they have equipped their students to be highly successful in the real world within the job market and/or higher education (Ohio Department of Education, 2019)

Pie graph showing Columbus City Schools racial demographics as follows: 3.9% Asian, 54.5% Black/African-American, 22.7% White/Caucasian, 11.8% Hispanic, 6.8% Multi-racial, 0.3% Other.Pie graph showing racial demographics of Upper Arlington schools as follows: 6.4% Asian, 0.9% Black/African-American, 83.5% White/Caucasian, 3% Hispanic, 6.1% Multi-Racial, 0.1% Other.

Conversely, in a video released by Columbus City Schools, the district acknowledges that they are not where they would like to be with regard to their grades and state scores. As a district, they have their teachers participate in what is called a “data walk”. This practice pulls all of the teachers’ data and pinpoints areas of focus and what needs to be done to academically to help students to succeed.  One of the biggest areas of focus right now is getting each third grader to a third grade reading level by the time they should be, an area that has been a struggle in the past. (Columbus City Schools Ohio, 2019)


Financial needs between students can vary drastically and change without notice, so the financing system needs to be flexible as well. The newly proposed Cupp-Patterson funding formula is the first step in that direction. Priority needs to be given to the basic needs of building repair and resource acquisition for struggling students in poorer districts. Understanding of the disparities between district funding is necessary for change. 


Key Terms

Board: Ohio Board of Education

Disparity: a great difference

District: geographical area that determines where occupants of each neighborhood attend public schools

Funding formula: a formula that determines how funds are distributed in Ohio schools

Transitory: not permanent 


Recommended Resources:

This webpage gives a detailed breakdown of how to understand and interpret the information given by district profile reports (DPR), as well as links to DPRs of the previous school year’s income, expenses, and demographic information.

This is the financial update for Upper Arlington Schools, which provides a detailed account for the resources they take in and where they spend it.

This website gets specifically into open teacher positions within Upper Arlington School district, or any selected district, along with details of the position, such as job requirements and salaries (Part 1) (Part 2)

These videos give an in-depth look at the Cupp-Patterson funding formula. 

This article suggests ways in which money can be raised from rich districts to help support poor districts. 

This is a short video explaining systemic racism and redlining.



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