One of the biggest sticking points in Gov. John Kasich’s budget is his school funding formula, which he says puts more money in K-12 education and helps poor districts. But as Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, there are those who are doubting his math, and that’s holding up this key part of his budget.
Kasich's comments are part of an exclusive one-on-one interview with Kasich and Karen Kasler. The full interview with Kasich will air on The State of Ohio on PBS stations and at Statenews.org this weekend.
Gov. Kasich introduced his funding formula this way.
KASICH: “If you are poor, you’re going to get more. If you’re richer, you’re going to get less.”
But critics have said that’s not the way the plan looks on paper. They point to huge funding increases in wealthy districts such as Olentangy Local, New Albany and Twinsburg, while many districts in poorer, rural areas are getting no more money. The governor defends those increases, saying the student populations in those districts have exploded in population as property values have fallen.
And the governor says there is increased funding for education in his budget, and he’s irritated with claim that school funding is not at the level it was before his first budget, in which K-12 education took cuts.
KASICH: “The fact of the matter is K-12 is important. That’s why we’re putting so much more money in it now.”
KASLER: “But some communities and schools are saying they’re still not back to where they were when your last budget was introduced, when they took cuts.”
KASICH: “Well, that’s false. It’s just not true. I mean, they can say whatever they want. That’s not true. You know, at the end of the day we have said that no school district would be cut. We have a $1.2 billion increase -- it’s almost a 6 percent increase in K-12 funding. Now, if you’re increasing K-12 by almost 6 percent, I don’t know how, I really don’t know how you talk about that as a cut. But let’s face it -- you know, in, sometimes in the school bureaucracy if you gave them a trillion dollars it would never be enough. And I understand that, and that’s okay.”
But Democrats say the governor’s own math shows that funding for K-12 education is below where it was before Kasich was elected in 2010. Stephen Dyer is a former state representative from Green, near Akron, and now is a school funding expert for the liberal think tank Innovation Ohio.
DYER: “All I can say is, in his own blue book, total funding to education is down $340 million, and that’s total funding to education, not just district by district stuff. It was down $340 million from the 10-11 budget. It’s his own budget documents that say that.”
Dyer says the budget sets the per-pupil foundation level -- what he says is the minimum kids need -- at $5,000, which Dyer says is the lowest level it’s been since the 90s. And while Dyer says that the governor’s statement that no district is getting cut in his budget is accurate, he says districts still aren’t back to where they were before their budgets were cut in the last spending plan.
DYER: “It’s true that they’re not getting cut this year, but they’re being guaranteed on last school year. So their guarantee is based on a big year, a year in which they received big cuts.”
And lawmakers are also concerned about the funding formula. House Speaker Bill Batchelder, who leads a supermajority caucus of 60 Republicans, says he plans to spend a lot of spring break looking into the formula, which he says is easier to deal with than the Medicaid expansion in the budget.
BACHELDER: “I think it’s absolutely solvable. I don’t think it’s one of these overwhelming things -- it’s not like Obamacare, for example. I think we can get that work done...In addition to coloring eggs and other activities, we will be spending a lot of time next week in the conference room in my office working on that particular issue.”
The Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers are opposed to the school funding plan. Kasich introduced his plan in front of a group of school administrators. And superintendents are lining up for and against it, with more opposing it than supporting it.