LIMA — Twenty-four years after the Ohio Supreme Court first ruled the state’s school funding formula unconstitutional, lawmakers have not settled on a solution. They may not find one this time either.
The Ohio House and Senate have 24 days to reconcile their budgets—the House plan with a complete rewrite of Ohio’s school funding formula, or the Senate plan with a modest and temporary boost in state aide for public schools and increased support for private school vouchers.
Seven of the nine Allen County public school districts would see less state aid under the Senate’s two-year budget plan than the fully phased-in version of the House’s school funding formula, said Wendy Patton, a researcher for Policy Matters Ohio, one of several organizations pushing lawmakers to enact the House’s school funding formula.
The only Allen County public school districts that would fair better under the Senate plan are Lima and Delphos schools, according to the Policy Matters Ohio analysis and Senate budget simulations for each school district.
How the plans differ
The House’s school funding formula took three years to develop, using the Cupp-Patterson plan formulated by House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Democratic Rep. John Patterson that would base state funding on the cost to educate a child in each school district, rather than relying on statewide averages.
The Cupp-Patterson plan would also eliminate caps and guarantees, exceptions to the current formula that shortchange districts with growing enrollments. It would guarantee funding for other districts.
The Senate plan would restore some wellness funding for social services and medical care that Gov. Mike DeWine requested in February, which were not included in the House’s budget. And it would increase per pupil spending for Ohio’s EdChoice scholarships.
Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said he thinks the House formula could skyrocket costs in the later years of its implementation – making it unaffordable for future general assemblies.
“They passed a series of guarantees unrelated to costs,” Huffman said earlier this month. “We have a system based on actual costs.”
The Senate’s plan focused on the base amount schools get per student, raising it from $6,020 to $6,110 over the next two years.
The House’s base cost was $7,020. But the plan eliminated DeWine’s $1.1 billion in “wellness” dollars for social services, outside counselors and medical care.
Lima schools was an early proponent of the House’s school funding formula, with Superintendent Jill Ackerman signing a petition in support of the plan this spring. So too was the Elida schools board, which adopted a resolution in favor of the school funding formula earlier this year.
Elida schools has proposed 19 ballot questions since 1997 to raise more funds locally, as the district is one of hundreds of capped districts in Ohio.
“I’m hopeful that at some point, there’s some easing of that cap language that would get us some of those dollars back that we’re supposed to get from the state, which would take some stress off of how we operate and how many times we go back to our local voters,” said Joel Parker, treasurer of Elida schools.
Parker also expressed concern regarding the Senate’s plan to increase funding for EdChoice scholarships, which would spend $7,500 per high school student attending private or charter schools through the EdChoice program.
“I’m only getting $5,490 per student from the state,” Parker said. An “unlimited” expansion of the state’s voucher program would pose its own financial challenges, Parker said, referring to the Senate’s concern that the House plan is unaffordable.
Ottoville schools is one of the few Ohio public school districts that have not received federal assistance through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, the latest pot of pandemic aid for schools.
Under the Senate plan, the district would see an additional $38,000 in state funding over the next two years. The fully phased-in House formula could boost funding for Ottoville schools by another $1.1 million, according to Policy Matters Ohio estimates.
“Ottoville continues to be ranked in the top 5% academically in the state year after year,” Ottoville Superintendent Scott Mangas said via email Thursday. “I would think the state would want to invest money into a school system that continues to be successful.”
Concerns about affordability ring hollow to Patton, who said the legislature continues to prioritize tax cuts at the expense of public schools.
“This is a General Assembly, a Senate that believes they can afford $1.3 billion in tax cuts that would primarily benefit the wealthiest 1% of Ohio,” she said. “…This is their priority: more tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, as opposed to adequate funding and sufficient funding so that we have an excellent public school in every zip code.”