Analysts Hopeful As Ohio's Fair School Funding Plan Becomes Law In Budget

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“School districts don't love going to the ballot. If this means that they don't have to go the ballot for as much or as often, or they can let some of these roll off, I think they would jump at that opportunity, ” said Steve Dyer with the Ohio Education Association. [ITTIGallery / Shutterstock]
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Included in the biennium budget bill Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to sign Wednesday night is a version a new funding model for public schools lawmakers and educators across Ohio have been trying to pass since last year.   

Steve Dyer, policy analyst for the Ohio Education Association, a teacher’s union, called it “a good day for hope” in the public education system as the Fair School Funding Plan becomes law.

“Two thirds of the new revenue goes to the poorest districts in the state,” Dyer said “The largest per-pupil increase, on average, is in the Big 8 urban districts. The largest average percentage increase is in the smaller urban districts, places like Mansfield and Warren… it’s being directed to the districts that need it the most and are least able to raise local revenue to pay for it.”

The plan determines state aid based on a formula of 60 percent local property taxes, 40 percent household income, along with other factors, and boosts K-12 funding by $564 million.

Dyer’s biggest criticism is that the legislature only committed to funding the model for two years, as opposed to the six-year phase-in originally passed by the House. 

“The legislature is more than happy to commit future legislatures to far less revenue through tax cuts, but somehow they suddenly are concerned about future legislatures when it comes to investing in kids,” Dyer said. “It’s kind of traditionally been the case. So, of course, that’s concerning.”

Only when the plan is fully funded will school districts across the board really start being able to reduce the number of levies they ask the public to support, according to Dyer. Although some districts, like Columbus City Schools, which received a significant amount of state funding through the plan, could reduce levy requests immediately, he added.

“School districts don’t love going to the ballot. If this [fully funded model] means that they don’t have to go the ballot for as much or as often, or they can let some of these roll off, I think they would jump at that opportunity,” Dyer said.

Aaron Churchill, the Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education think tank, however, questioned whether the funding model will reduce the frequency of school levies appearing on Ohio ballots.

“[School districts] are always basically saying they need some money so I think that we’ll continue to see a lot of campaigns,” Churchill said.

But he praised the new funding model for directing more money to the neediest school districts with growing student populations.

“We really want to create a formula that drives money to where students are actually attending school and where the needs are the greatest,” Churchill said.

The two-year school funding commitment in the budget bill a “compromise” among legislators, he said, adding that there were major concerns within the state Senate when it came to committing $2 billion dollars of state funding over six years.

“Let's start from phasing in this funding model that is fairly expensive over the next two years and see where we’re at and see what the budget situation looks like in 2023, and see if we can continue to afford to escalate funding in the way that this funding model is designed to do,” Churchill said. “The Senate had concerns, as did [The Fordham Institute], about what would happen over the long haul in terms of the state budget implications of the funding formula that would escalate costs in this way.”

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