Senate holding off on school-funding plan


ANNA STAVER - Columbus Dispatch



COLUMBUS, Ohio — A long-awaited plan to give Ohio a constitutional school-funding system must wait until at least next year.

The revamped way to fund public education passed 84-8 Thursday afternoon in the Ohio House with a round of applause.

“I want you to know that under this mask I am smiling, and if weren’t for these steps, I might be doing cartwheels,” said one of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Patterson, D-Brunswick, said.

But as the congratulations rolled in from educators and advocacy groups, it became increasingly clear that House Bill 305 wasn’t destined for the governor’s desk — at least not this year.

“I would like to acknowledge and congratulate Reps. (Bob) Cupp and Patterson who worked so hard on the bill,” Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, said. “I still believe there is a lot of good in there, and it is a great framework to roll into our next budget.”

House Bill 305 attempted to rewrite Ohio’s K-12 funding formula to include both property values and family incomes, eliminate exceptions to the formula known as “caps” and “guarantees,” increase funding for busing and economically disadvantaged students and pay charter schools directly.

It would have been a massive overhaul to the way the state funds public education founded upon a 1997 Ohio Supreme Court case called DeRolph v. State that declared Ohio’s school funding system unconstitutional. The ruling was affirmed three more times in the ensuing years.

“My entire career has been overshadowed by a ruling that our school-funding system was unconstitutional,” said Rep. Jamie Callender, R-Concord. “But in all of that time, 27 years, this is the first time there has been a bill on this floor that universally is acknowledged as meeting the constitutional requirements. Twenty-seven years. That’s a long time.”

Even with the delay, the proposal faces an uphill battle in the Ohio Senate, where key lawmakers are skeptical about passing a bill that comes with a nearly $2 billion annual price tag when current programs are facing cuts. State revenues are down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It may not pass the Senate,” Callender acknowledged to his colleagues from the House floor.

John Fortney, spokesman for Senate Republicans, said the delay is necessary because, “this is fundamentally a function of the budget process, which begins with planning the new, two-year budget next year.”

One of the big economic concerns was all the studies baked into HB 305 that would alter its funding. Preschool expansion and funding for economically disadvantaged students were two of the big ones. Some senators say the bill could cost as much as $4 billion a year, double current estimates.

“I’m not being critical … but it’s hard for me to move on a bill when such a significant portion of the model is unknown,” Dolan said.

Incoming Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, had similar reservations.

“I think it’s a pretty tough thing for the Senate, in the last two weeks of a General Assembly, to pass,” Huffman said.

But supporters of putting this framework into law now, like Rep. Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, called HB 305 a moral imperative.

“This was never about the money,” Strayhorn said. “This was always about us not having the political will to do what’s right for our children.”

Outgoing Ohio Democratic Chair David Pepper ripped the delay.

“For the Ohio Senate’s Republican leaders to declare this bill dead on arrival is unconscionable,” he said in a prepared statement.

“Whenever gun lobbyists or anti-abortion groups have a priority bill, their lapdogs in the Ohio General Assembly figure out how to move legislative mountains. Now that it’s Ohio kids who need help, GOP leaders in the state Senate can’t even bring up the bill for a vote.”

ANNA STAVER

Columbus Dispatch

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