LIMA — State education associations see positives in the newly adopted school funding formula. Still, they say it doesn’t provide true equity for all districts.
“We think it is a step in the right direction, but we think there is still work to be done, particularly with respect to equity for low-wealth and rural districts, and we need to address that,” Damon Asbury, Ohio School Boards Association director of legislative services, said Thursday.
Asbury and OSBA lobbyist Jay Smith visited The Lima News on Thursday to talk about the funding formula.
The organization, along with the Ohio Association of School Business Officials and Buckeye Association of School Administrators, has been talking around the state about an analysis of the formula done by Howard Fleeter, consultant for the Education Tax Policy Institute.
The analysis shows that while poor rural districts receive an 8 percent increase in the new budget, wealthy suburban districts will see a 14 percent increase. Asbury said while there are increases, rural districts, especially poor ones, do not have the ability to provide the same resources as suburban districts or others served more favorably by the funding formula.
“It is a question of fairness,” Smith said.
Asbury added, “It goes back to the question of adequacy. Do you have enough money in the formula to ensure that kids are getting the basic programs? Do they have access to the same kinds of resources so they can compete with others schools? We think this formula makes significant steps in that direction, but we are not there yet.”
Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said that no matter how you try to change the funding, there will be school districts negatively affected. Certain districts and entities complaining about the budget is nothing new, he said.
“The latest General Assembly and governor do the best they can to try to make it fair, and the people who do the worst say, ‘Look how bad of a deal we got,’” Huffman said.
The House and Senate reduced the number of districts on guarantees from 398 in Kasich’s original proposal to 191 in the final bill. The number drops to 177 in the second year of the budget. Guarantees make sure each district receives at least the same amount of money in state aid as it did in the last fiscal year.
The education organizations support decreasing the number of districts on guarantees. Fleeter’s analysis shows if the school funding formula was fully funded with no guarantees or caps, poor rural and small town districts would lose more than $30 million, while suburban and urban districts gained.
Overall, schools are seeing an additional $831 million in this budget as compared to the last fiscal year. Asbury warns that one can’t forget about cuts to education during the previous budget process, though. With the loss of tangible personal property tax replacement payments, education funding for the new biennium will fail to restore those losses by more than $607 million.
“Even though there are significant increases, you have to tell the full story, and you have to look at the declines from the last biennium,” he said.
The organizations also have concerns about the expansion of vouchers. The budget bill makes income the sole requirement for getting vouchers, moving away from the concept of the original EdChoice voucher program, which provided vouchers to pupils in schools deemed to be failing.
“It is a major concern because it has no relationship to how well the school the child would attend is doing,” Asbury said. “You could have a child in an ‘excellent’ or ‘excellent with distinction’ school district who, if they are low income, can get a voucher to go to private schools.”
The new program currently only applies to kindergarten and first grade. Once a pupil gets a voucher, he or she is eligible through 12th grade. Under the guidelines, a family with an income of up to $96,000 is eligible for a portion of voucher money.
“If this thing plays out in its totality,” Asbury said, “huge amounts of dollars will be transferred from publicly operated schools to private schools and school districts that have no accountability by elected officials.”
Huffman, who pushed for voucher changes similar to the enacted ones in the past, called the money being spent on vouchers “peanuts” compared to what the state is spending on education. Huffman doesn’t buy the argument about public money going to private schools. He said the constitution allows the state to spend public funds on religious schools, and the state spends public money on all kinds of private things.
“It is just sort of a buzz phrase because a lot of folks want to keep a government-dominated system in place,” he said. “The other thing is how do you look a kid or parent in the eye who knows this school is going to be better than another school for them and deny them that opportunity, especially when it is costing taxpayers less money.”
State funding change estimates