COLUMBUS — Lawmakers hoping to overhaul the way Ohio funds its public schools laid out a critical part of their plan Wednesday to the House Finance Committee: How the state would divvy up its dollars to districts.
It’s called a distribution methodology, and it would use a district’s wealth (local property values) and capacity (local incomes) to determine how much money schools should be able to raise from their residents. Once that figure is calculated, an amount can be determined for how much the state needs to contribute to keep funding relatively even among districts of sometimes-vastly different wealth.
The goal: configuring the new formula in such a way that it doesn’t leave some districts facing a tax increase if they want to fund what the state says it would cost to educate a typical student in their district.
The so-called Cupp-Patterson bill — named after lead sponsors Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and John Patterson, D-Jefferson — is viewed as the best hope in a generation to elevate funding to the state constitutional mandate of a “thorough and efficient” school system.
But while the total dollars proposed by a coalition led by the bipartisan duo is widely deemed adequate, the devil has been in the details of making sure each of Ohio’s 600-plus districts gets treated equitably when those dollars are handed out across the state.
“The current system is so complicated that few people fully understand it. And it has created such severe and inexplicable anomalies,” said Michael Hanlon, the superintendent of Chardon Local Schools and a member of the Fair School Funding Workgroup that’s spent two years working on this idea.
But the new formula isn’t exactly easy either.
The committee chairman, Rep. Scott Oelslager, R-Canton, warned his colleagues they were heading into the weeds Wednesday morning. And Cupp asked the presenters on House Bill 305 to walk them through a series of calculations that might “look a little Greek to a lot of folks” but was actually “simple math.”
The challenge is trying to provide the same relative level of funding to districts that are as small as five students and as large as 50,000 with widely different tax bases.
Hanlon’s district, for example, gets nearly $700,000 when it increases a school levy by a single mill. But Trimble Local Schools in Athens Schools gets about $50,000 from the same one-mill increase.
The plan calls for an additional $1.5 billion a year in state funding that would be phased in over six years. The source of that money has not been specified.
And the proposal may need to make it through both the House and Senate before lawmakers break next spring to begin campaigning for re-election.
However, House Speaker Larry Householder has said he will be happy if the package is completed in time for the next two-year state budget, which will be considered in early 2021.