The Fair School Funding Plan provides a constitutional solution to school funding in Ohio, and because of that, our organizations are joining together to ask our legislators to support House Bill (HB) 305. This bill and its companion in the Senate, Senate Bill (SB) 376, is a definable, defensible, and transparent response to the 1997 DeRolph case, which ruled Ohio’s system of funding schools unconstitutional.
More than 23 years since that decision, the Fair School Funding Plan delivers the adequate and equitable level of funding necessary to provide appropriate and meaningful opportunities for all public-school students across the state.
The Fair School Funding Plan was developed over the past three years by a work group of superintendents and treasurers along with current House Speaker Bob Cupp and Rep. John Patterson. They were tasked with answering the questions: “What does it cost to educate a child in the state of Ohio?” and “What does each district need to operate?”
To answer those questions, the Cupp-Patterson work group analyzed national research, best practices, and actual Ohio school district spending data. They also drew on their own extensive experience in educating students and operating school districts to make recommendations for a school funding system that meets the needs of all Ohio’s students in the 21st century.
Dr. Howard Fleeter, economist and leading Ohio school funding expert who serves as a consultant to the Ohio Education Policy Institute, agrees that the Fair School Funding Plan meets the constitutional standards of equity and adequacy. He states, “In order to be adequate, the state must use objective cost-based methodologies to determine the cost of educating a typical student—the base cost. Another aspect of adequacy is recognizing the additional costs above and beyond the base cost to meet the unique needs of each student—the categoricals. Categorical funding provides additional funding for economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, English learners, gifted students, and career and technical education students.
The Fair School Funding Plan provides both base cost and categorical funding that is driven by the number of students in a district and the needs of those students. The Funding Plan meets the standard of adequacy.” Dr. Fleeter continues, “In order to be equitable, the state must employ a methodology which fairly defines the state-local share of the costs for K-12 education across Ohio’s 609 school districts. The state-local share mechanism most recently in place from 2013 to 2018 was widely flawed. In contrast, the new state-local share provided in the Fair School Funding Plan meets the equitable standard as charged by the courts. In doing so, it ensures that the state system of school funding is not ‘overly reliant on local property taxes’ as detailed in the DeRolph ruling, meeting the constitutional standard of equitable.”
Ohio has not had a school funding formula in place for the last two years. For the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, districts received the same funding they received in 2018-2019. This frozen funding has been subsequently cut due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning districts are receiving less in state funding than they did in 2018.
Even when a funding formula was in place, more than 80% of K-12 school districts were not on the formula. These school districts either saw their funding capped, meaning they received only a portion of the state funds generated by the formula for their districts, or the formula did not generate enough funding and they were placed on a guarantee, meaning that the state just provided the district with the amount of funding they had previously received. Therefore, even when Ohio operated with a formula, the funding provided for the vast majority of Ohio’s 1.6 million public school students was established with no objective analysis of what it costs to educate those students.
The Fair School Funding Plan provides the objectivity missing in any previous attempts to develop a formula. The Plan includes:
• A new input-based methodology for determining the base cost amount, which will vary based on district demographics;
• A new method for determining the state and local share of funding based on a sliding scale, including both income and property capacity. This new measure takes into account the size of the local property tax base and the ability of district residents to raise local tax revenue;
• Increased funding for economically disadvantaged students that would be funded before any other component of the formula; and
• A recommendation for studies to be carried out to determine the true cost of educating students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English learners.
In its fourth and final ruling on the topic, the Supreme Court of Ohio said the duty now lies with the General Assembly to remedy the unconstitutional school-funding formula. Today, that duty can be fulfilled if lawmakers pass HB 305. We believe when fully funded and implemented, HB 305 meets the constitutional mandate to “secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State.”
We are asking for Ohio legislators to support HB 305, Ohio’s public schools, and the students they serve.
R. Kirk Hamilton is the executive director of the Buckeye Association of School Administrator (BASA). Richard C. Lewis is the chief executive officer of the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA). James Rowan is the executive director of the Ohio Association o f School Business Officials (OASBO).