COLUMBUS — A good school-funding plan contains two major elements:
1. Adequacy - is enough money provided to deliver a good education?
2. Equity - is the money divided fairly among richer and poorer districts?
The proposal Ohio legislators are expected to consider this month generally gets an “A” on adequacy but an incomplete on equity, says longtime school-funding analyst Howard Fleeter.
“They’ve pushed a lot of the right levers,” said Fleeter, whose analysis released Thursday was performed on behalf of the nonprofit Ohio Education Policy Institute, research arm for both school administrators and teachers unions.
The current proposal “makes significant progress in addressing the issues that have plagued Ohio’s school funding formula for many years,” the 24-page analysis says.
However, the measure “does not go far enough in closing the equity gap between wealthier and less wealthy districts in Ohio. … This gap is evident in urban, rural and small town school districts and is most pronounced in the small-town and rural districts.”
For example, if the proposal were fully phased in next year, the difference in per-pupil resources between the poorest 20% and wealthiest 20% districts would be reduced only by $23, to $1,560 a pupil, Fleeter found.
His critique of the proposal developed by a team headed by state Reps. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and John Patterson, D-Jefferson, comes as lawmakers gear up for hearings on the bipartisan duo’s House Bill 305. Cupp and Patterson say they hope the new setup gets implemented by mid-2020 to start a six-year phase-in designed to finally satisfy the Ohio Constitution’s requirement for the state to provide a “thorough and efficient” public school system. Although the numbers are squishy, the plan likely will cost around $1.5 billion a year when fully implemented.
“Our goal continues to be developing a funding system that provides all Ohio students the opportunity to access the tools needed to reach their potential regardless of what ZIP code they live in or circumstances they face,” said Gail Crawley, spokeswoman for House Speaker Larry Householder, a Glenford Republican.
“Our system has challenges beyond funding that also must be addressed. Reasonable accountability, reduced testing, fair reports cards, and recognizing that classroom success isn’t only about advancing students to the next grade level, but also about growing children into productive members of society while promoting local governance with balanced state oversight as well.”
Fleeter said the Cupp-Patterson plan suffers from putting too many districts into the same category when determining how much local residents should be paying for their schools. Ohio districts are divided into five categories based on income and property values under the plan. But that means that the richest category with 134 school districts includes both Northern Local in Perry County, which has a median income of $41,826, and Orange City southeast of Cleveland, with a median income of $93,421.
“They’re treating too many places with higher income and lower income the same,” Fleeter said.
Ironically, Northern Local is where the original school-funding lawsuit began a quarter century ago. But its property wealth has increased significantly in that time.
Fleeter had unequivocal praise for the Cupp-Patterson plan’s method of calculating the actual cost of an education, the first attempt to do so for a state school-funding formula in a decade, since the administration of Gov. Ted Strickland - which couldn’t pay for it due to the Great Recession. The price tag of the current measure certainly will be an issue, especially since it will be rolled out well after the state implemented a two-year budget.
However, two thirds of the 99-member House already are co-sponsoring the Cupp-Patterson bill even though it has not had its first hearing. Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, has expressed tentative backing for the plan.