Last updated: August 23. 2013 10:50PM - 92 Views

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The Lima News

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s long-awaited school funding plan now faces months of scrutiny as the state plots its educational direction. The refreshing news is that on first look, the two-year plan received a thumbs up from school administrators, who were fearing the worst when they walked into Thursday’s briefing in Columbus.

It was a big day for Kasich as he showed he could forge middle ground while not surrendering his promise of rewarding those schools that do the best job of educating their students.

What pleased superintendents the most was learning their districts will not be losing money for the next two years. What left them most concerned was Kasich’s plan to expand the role of school vouchers.

The $15.1 billion plan increases state funding to schools by 6 percent in 2014 and 3.2 percent the next year. Poor school districts will get a bigger piece of the pie and richer districts a smaller one. More money is being invested into educating the smartest students and to help those with disabilities.

The plan buys two years of relief for school districts that have struggled with constant cutbacks in recent years. However, it also includes an unspoken warning: Use the money wisely to improve your schools, because there are no promises it will be available in the next budget.

The governor also is proposing that many state mandates be lifted. Two of them are especially noteworthy:

• Districts could base their school calendar on a minimum number of hours instead of days. This will give schools more flexibility in preparing students for college and careers,.

• He’s encouraging schools to hold all-day kindergarten by changing the state funding formula. It would ensure that kindergarten students enrolled in full-day programs are no longer funded as half-day students.

Where Kasich will receive the most pushback is his sweeping changes to the voucher program. The initial program has proven to be a great success in providing better educated students. It allowed students in failing schools to transfer to another school. However, as those students left, so did their per-pupil state funds.

Kasich now wants to put the voucher program on steroids. He proposed to provide private-school tuition starting next fall to any child entering kindergarten from a household with income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level — about $46,000 a year for a family of four. Currently, 45 percent of Ohio’s 1.8 million students in all grades come from families making below that amount.

Vouchers would be worth up to $4,250 a year and could be used at the parents’ choice of school from kindergarten to high school. The governor’s plan provides $8.5 million for vouchers the first year and $17 million the next.

Superintendents were the first to be publicly briefed by Kasich on his plan. The governor’s goal is to improve the quality of education in Ohio and to address the ongoing disparity problem among Ohio schools. Currently, 20 mills of property tax can raise from $900 in a poorer district to more than $14,000 per pupil in a wealthier district.

More information will come Monday when Kasich announces the overall budget plan and on Feb. 19 when he holds his State of the State address in Lima.

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