Lame-duck push on to change how Ohio funds schools


By Jim Provance - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (TNS)



COLUMBUS — A bipartisan effort in lame-duck session is under way in both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly to enact what backers claim will finally be a method of funding K-12 schools that passes constitutional muster.

The additional price tag, if fully implemented over six years by future state lawmakers, would reach $1.99 billion a year.

“Ohio’s current funding formula is unpredictable, indecipherable, confusing, but most of all inadequate and inequitable. It is long overdue for an overhaul,” said state Sen. Peggy Lehner (R., Kettering), chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

The idea behind Senate Bill 376 and House Bill 305, the “Fair School Funding Plan,” is to fashion a formula that determines the ability of each of more than Ohio 600 school districts to raise money locally. Sixty percent of that calculation would look at districts’ property tax valuations while the remaining 40 percent would consider local residents’ incomes.

The state would make up the difference between what the local district would be expected to raise and what a separate formula says it would cost to educate a typical student in that district.

The state would make additional adjustments to compensate districts for higher numbers of students with disabilities, economic disadvantage, and needs for special education, gifted, and English as a second language classes.

The per-district price tag would break down according to direct classroom instruction costs at 60 percent; building operations, 20 percent; instructional and student support, 15 percent; and district leadership and accountability, 5 percent.

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The bills would also have the state directly fund public charter schools and voucher scholarships for students who attend private and religious schools, rather than expect that to come out of districts’ budgets, a perennial source of consternation in Columbus.

The plan would also adjust how districts are funded for students’ transportation costs.

The Senate provided examples of how school districts would be affected after all this shakes out. The estimated total change in funding per student for some local districts when the plan is fully implemented:

—Toledo: $1,377, or 16.8 percent more.

—Washington Local: $3,823, or 102.6 percent, more.

—Ottawa Hills: $107, or 4.4 percent, less.

—Oregon: $1.460, or 38.5 percent, more.

—Springfield: $1,590, or 101.1 percent, more.

—Rossford: $342, or 16.2 percent, more.

—Perrysburg: $304, or 13.9 percent, more.

—Bowling Green: $1,221, or 49.8 percent, more.

The plan has been a work in progress for nearly two years ever since state Rep. Bob Cupp (R., Lima) teamed with state Rep. John Patterson (D., Jefferson) to pursue a proposal they hoped could be woven into the current two-year state budget enacted last July.

That didn’t happen, and the complex formula continued to be tweaked and the subject of committee hearings since. Now state Sens. Lehner and Vernon Sykes (D., Akron) have incorporated the various changes into their Senate bill.

With Mr. Cupp recently promoted to Speaker of the House, the measure is expected to get a push for passage in lame-duck session.

If passed, it would come 17 years after the Ohio Supreme Court last struck down Ohio’s school-funding system as unconstitutional because it put students in poorer districts at a competitive disadvantage with their wealthier counterparts.

State Rep. Gary Scherer (R., Circleville) has taken Mr. Cupp’s place as a sponsor of the version from the House of Representatives.

“While there are identified levels of funding, it is not a prescriptive plan,” said Mike Sobul, treasurer for Granville Schools near Columbus and a consultant for the funding plan. “If this is saying that the plan will fund three third-grade teachers, that does not mean the district needs to have three third-grade teachers. That is a district choice.”

It remains to be seen how the state’s current financial situation would affect any future plan to dramatically increase funding for primary and secondary schools.

The original bill was introduced when Ohio was flush with cash, but then the coronavirus pandemic led to a shutdown of much of the state’s economy. Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration slashed some $750 million from the budget, including aid to schools, in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“As a legislature, we cannot tie the hands of future General Assemblies to follow,” Mr. Patterson said. “What we have to understand is this is a blueprint, a collection of ideas that, if fully implemented, can transition us from where we are to where we need to be. We realize that there is a real challenge with respect to the budget.”

Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, applauded the effort.

“SB 376 and its companion legislation in the Ohio House (HB 305), represent real movement toward meeting Ohio’s constitutional requirement for an equitable and adequate school funding formula,” she said. “By removing local deductions for vouchers and charter schools, this legislation would also remove one of the largest pain points for public school budgets.”

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By Jim Provance

The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (TNS)

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