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Just Days from Announcement, Kasich's School Funding Plan Still a Mystery

Gov. Kasich claims he’s bad at keeping secrets, but he’s kept his school funding formula under wraps for months. He was asked to drop a few details about it after an event in November, and responded with a line from an old ad campaign.

KASICH: “No wine before its time. And I don’t know if that’s spelled with an ‘i’ or an ‘h.' (laughter) Now that’s a heck of a quote, isn’t it?”

The governor has referred to his formula several times, including in his year-end review last month.

KASICH: “We don’t look at this as some effort to try to address some court case, but rather this is a program to make sure that our children have the capability to succeed in whatever they want.”

And Kasich made these comments in a speech before a gathering of county officials from around the state last month.

KASICH: “We’re going to come out with a whole new school funding program designed to make sure that a child who lives in one zip code, even if the zip code is poor, will have the resources necessary for them to compete with a child who lives in another zip code where there might be great wealth. Every kid deserves a fighting chance.”

That idea means different things to different school funding experts. Bill Phillis is with the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. In the 1990s, that organization launched the DeRolph case against the state over the way it pays for public education. That case resulted in the Ohio Supreme Court ruling the funding method unconstitutional four times.

Phillis says for him, that idea that kids in different zip codes to have the resources to compete means that the property tax-based funding system would have to be overhauled.

PHLLIS: “If that is the goal, then the state must be willing and able to open up the purse strings and put a tremendously increased priority on education funding at the state level.”

And given that school districts took big cuts in Gov. Kasich’s first budget, that seems unlikely. Phillis and others have said they’ve heard another important concept involved in the governor’s plan is “the money follows the student”. And that worries Phillis and other advocates for public schools.

But other school money watchers have a different take. Greg Lawson is with the conservative Buckeye Institute, and says he’s hoping that means more school choice, but he doesn’t expect it means more money for traditional school districts.

LAWSON: “I think trying to find a way to appropriately disburse what we do have without trying to go back and looking at taxes in a negative way or anything like that is what he’s probably looking at. How exactly we square the circle, so to speak, is the $800 million question.”

In his year-end review last month, the governor offered a preview of what he appears to be preparing for Thursday:

KASICH: “We will have an education night where we will bring the people who were involved in this together. It’s not going to be some one-off just included in the budget. We’ll have a whole evening of discussion. It will involve educators, advisers, and we will cover this whole program.”

The virtual town hall starts Thursday evening at 6. The governor and a panel of education leaders will take questions through Facebook and Twitter, and the event will be streamed live on Kasich's campaign website.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.