Akron Beacon Journal: Better plan for school funding wins

Akron Beacon Journal

When Ohio lawmakers decide to listen to the public in their budget process, they’ve proved they can make a positive difference.

Some changes built into the $74.1 billion spending package known as House Bill 110 are sure winners. Other changes might only be winners for a select few. Some seem to come out of nowhere, taking us all by surprise.

As House Speaker Bob Cupp said, in regard to one provision — the budget bill’s legalization of electronic instant bingo: “Budget time produces unusual and unexpected results.”

He has that right.

Here are some hits and misses from the budget bill.

School funding finally fixed

There’s jubilation across Ohio as the state’s school funding formula finally gets the overhaul districts have sought for 20 years. Cupp’s Fair School Funding Plan was drawn after three years of work by legislators, local education leaders and school finance experts.

Critics of the Senate plan announced in June claim it was slapped together in a couple of weeks behind closed doors.

We’re pleased that the budget conference committee settled on the plan that sought public input and promises to ease the burden on property owners.

To make things fairer, the state will look at both local incomes and property values to determine how much a district should be able to cover on its own. The base amount, or the cost to educate the average student, will be based on local costs instead of a single, statewide average.

One note of caution is that the bill funds just two years of the six-year plan. It will be up to future lawmakers to ensure a stable funding system.

Another key benefit of the school funding plan is that it allows direct state payments to charter schools, rather than the money coming from districts.

It’s unfortunate that charter schools remain a priority for Ohio lawmakers. More and better funded charter schools likely will be a result of this plan that expands eligibility and drops location restrictions. Children, too, will get larger EdChoice vouchers, $5,000 for K-8 and $7,500 for high school students.

Ohio continues to ignore concerns about the separation of church and state in channeling taxpayer money to religious schools. And lawmakers need to do a better job of ensuring that the private schools meet academic standards and are not wasting taxpayer dollars.

Tax cut rewards the wealthy

Lawmakers boast of a 3% personal income tax cut, and a raise in the minimum amount Ohioans must earn before having to pay state income taxes. But like most provisions in the budget, it’s a mixed bag.

Policy Matters Ohio, a critic of the cuts, says the cuts mainly benefit wealthy taxpayers. The 80% of taxpayers with income below $107,000 on average will receive a cut of $43 a year. Lowering the income tax rate for the state’s wealthiest means Ohio would collect $400 million less a year; these taxpayers would see an average $5,400 annual tax cut.

This sounds like a giveaway that benefits lawmakers’ wealthy donors and makes balancing the budget harder.

On the bright side, Senate President Matt Huffman said people making $25,000 or less will now be exempt from income tax, helping an additional 125,000 Ohioans. Previously the bracket was $22,150 or less.

Broadband, Medicaid, redistricting

• The budget provides $250 million for a broadband access grant program meant to boost connections to high-speed internet in underserved areas. A Senate proposal that could have put municipal broadband Internet services such as FairlawnGig out of business was dropped. This is a relief to governments that are trying to provide the best and most affordable services to local residents and businesses.

• Gov. Mike DeWine stepped in and vetoed a Senate provision that would have changed the way the state awards its care contracts for Medicaid. The state had been working on an overhaul for two years when senators tried to make a sudden change.

• Leave it to Ohio lawmakers to insert a controversial provision relating to redistricting into the state budget. DeWine, at the request of Attorney General Dave Yost, wisely vetoed language that would let the Ohio and Senate leaders spend tax dollars defending their proposals in any lawsuits that might arise in the process of drawing legislative district maps.

Of course, there’s more in the 3,300-page budget that affects us all. Expect to read more in the coming days about how this important document will affect us all.


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