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School funding overhaul applauded by local educators, representatives

Published By The Chronicle on June 29, 2021
Gayle Manning In The News

Local school districts praised the changes made to school funding in Ohio’s budget, but cautioned there’s still work to do.

The Ohio General Assembly approved its $75 billion budget Monday night and sent it to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk. Included in the budget are changes to how school districts are funded, 24 years after the state’s formula was declared unconstitutional.

DeWine can choose to veto individual line items.

The new formula sets a base cost for educating a student in Ohio, while also taking into account students who require additional support. It also evaluates a school district’s ability to raise funds based on its community’s property values and income levels. The current school funding model relies heavily on property taxes.

State Rep. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, called the move historic.

“I'm just very humbled to have been able to have voted for that,” she said, noting it was a No. 1 item on many legislators' wish lists for this budget cycle.

Dubbed the “Fair School Funding Plan” when first introduced, language was passed by the House in April. It was the culmination of years of work by state Reps. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and John Patterson, D-Jefferson, who met with educators, school treasurers and community members statewide for input on the bill before it was brought to the floor as standalone legislation before being folded into the budget.

The Senate stripped the plan from the budget earlier this month and put forward their own proposal, sparking “flocks” of people to contact legislators in dismay, Manning said.

“I think that played well with getting these things done,” she said.

In Conference Committee, the plan was restored to just two years of funding instead of the original six. Under the deal reached with the Senate, new per-student calculations will be made in future budgets and won’t be arrived at through an automatic funding formula.

The funding formula would give around $10.9 billion to education over the next two years, with districts receiving an average of $7,202 per pupil.

Avon Lake Superintendent Bob Scott said he’s excited to see where Fair School Funding ended up. Although some compromises were made, Scott feels the plan shows the respect needed to be shown toward educators.

“I think there will always be that little caveat that it’s not perfect,” he said. “There’s some devil in the details, but I think the biggest part at this point is if you’re a superintendent or a school board member or for your school district in general, you’ve really got to be excited about this because it’s a step in the right direction.”

Scott said the funding plan is still something that’s going to need to be worked over the next two years. As long as the legislators in the House and Senate are willing to work with educators, then Scott said the details will get worked out.

There’s still a long way to go on issues like EdChoice vouchers, Scott said. But just to have a formula for school funding that is understandable is huge, he said.

School advocacy groups praised the inclusion of the Fair School Funding Plan in the budget. The All in for Ohio Kids coalition — consisting of multiple organizations in Ohio — said the next two years is a start to equitable funding for students.

However, they pushed for the funding plan to be made permanent after the two years are up.

State Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, called the budget a “mixed bag,” but said there were some wins, including the Fair School Funding Plan.

“Many of us have long-supported the Fair School Funding Plan, a constitutional school funding formula that supports rather than penalizes children and their schools,” Miller said in a statement.

For Elyria Superintendent Ann Schloss, there still were some concerns she had with the budget. The primary one was the EdChoice voucher expansion. The budget increases the maximum amount for vouchers to attend private schools from $4,650 to $5,500 for children in grades K-8 and from $6,000 to $7,500 for high school students.

Although the number of Elyria students who use vouchers to attend private school varies each year, Schloss said it can have a big effect.

A new change is that the money to the private schools will be given directly from the state, but that still means less funding for public schools. The Ohio Democratic Party is pushing for DeWine to line-item veto the increased funding for school vouchers.

Columbia Superintendent Graig Bansek hadn't thought he'd ever see a major change to the state’s funding formula, but hoped the new iteration would be the start of something good for districts across Ohio.

“When you think about it, over the past 12 months, it's probably the first time in history that schools have had the opportunity to gain funding versus losing funding. In the 27 years I've been in education, the last 12 months have been the only time that's happened,” he said, pointing to COVID-19 relief funds, as well as Fair School Funding.

Still, he expressed concerns for the EdChoice provisions. While he doesn’t expect Columbia Schools will be hugely impacted, larger districts could be.

“I would say academic wise, I would rank us up with the top schools in Lorain County,” he said. “But the larger school systems are losing a lot of money and they have good school systems with great teachers and they should not be losing kids to vouchers.”

The time limit on the changes to school funding means educators are going to have to keep fighting to keep seeing change, Schloss said.

“I don’t want to say I’m happy or sad,” Schloss said. “It’s a move in the right direction for some of it, but again, there’s a lot of work to do.”

It is still unclear how much individual school district allocations could change under the revised funding plan.

Alongside the funding overhaul, the General Assembly allocated $250 million for broadband access in schools and about $50 million toward busing.

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