Earlier this month spreadsheets were released that showed anticipated funding for each school district under Governor Kasich’s budget proposal. These revealed that a majority of districts will not experience any increase in funding. Questions have arisen regarding how the districts were chosen that will receive increases. Representatives of the Governor defended his plan in General Assembly hearings, and a group of senators introduced a competing school funding reform plan. It has been a busy month for school funding, and realistically the issue will likely remain in flux at least through the end of June and the adoption of a state budget.
The Governor and his staff caution that what appears to be “wealthy” districts receiving increases and “impoverished” districts being flat-funded is simply a reflection of rural property values increasing in recent years, while suburban values have decreased. Moreover, they point to guarantee funding as something that has artificially inflated funding in some impoverished districts that have lost student population. They argue that by effectively leveling up each district’s per pupil property valuation the Governor’s plan helps close the gaps between “rich” and “poor” districts. The Governor’s staff has testified that there was no intention in his plan to determine what is required for a quality education, or what a quality education would actually cost.
Critics of the Governor’s plan are concerned that most districts do not see increased funding, and some of those that receive increases are not the impoverished districts that initially were thought to benefit most from the plan. They further argue that the economy is turning around but the Governor’s plan fails to bring funding back up to the level maintained before Governor Kasich took office – this despite a sizeable budget surplus. They also point to a reduction in the state “foundation amount” to only $5,000. They argue that by reducing the foundation amount, and remarking that the guarantee is unsustainable, the Governor is opening the door to significant funding cuts in the future.
An alternative school funding plan – Senate Bill 15 – was introduced in the Senate on February 12. This plan is similar to the reforms endorsed several years ago by all of the major education organizations (e.g. OSBA, OASBO, BASA, OESCA, PTA, OEA, OFT, OAPSE). SB 15 requires the General Assembly to identify the components of a Constitutional education system and to cost them out. Every 6 years the components would be reevaluated, and in between the costs would be adjusted for inflation. Every district would be funded at the level required to provide these components. The local share, or charge off, for this funding level would be decreased over a span of several years. The major concepts of SB 15 would be placed before Ohio voters for approval in the November 2013 general election. No spreadsheets are available for SB 15 because it describes a concept for determining funding, but does not specify funding levels.
Because Governor Kasich’s proposal is part of the state budget it will be thoroughly considered by the General Assembly. In all likelihood the budget will not be finalized until late June. Nonetheless, many important votes will take place well in advance of June so school officials should provide input to their legislators sooner rather than later. SB 15, on the other hand, is unlikely to receive serious consideration unless legislators hear from their constituents that a different plan from the Governors must be considered.