Ohio Senators Promote School Funding Plan As Lame Duck Session Begins

[Andy Chow / Ohio Public Radio]
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A bipartisan bill to reform school funding has been introduced in the Ohio Senate, with many similarities to a plan introduced in the Ohio House last year.

This Senate plan makes some changes to the Cupp-Patterson plan, which was developed by a bipartisan task force to make the distribution of school funding more equitable. State Rep. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) said the Senate version changes the formula to allow poor school districts to get more money.

“This precisely captures the capacity of the local district to pay, and is a reflection of the second central holding of DeRolph, that school funding must not produce an over-reliance on local property taxes," Lehner said.

Lehner says their "Fair School Funding Plan," which includes a six-year phase-in, satisfies the Ohio Supreme Court’s 1997 ruling, which found the current formula was unconstitutional and overly reliant on local property taxes. 

The bill's co-sponsor, state Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), said the bill gives districts more compensation for various items outside of the base funding formula for things like transportation.  

“There’s a prevailing consensus that our school funding system is still unconstitutional, nearly 25 years after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on DeRolph," Sykes said in a statement. “Educators and administrators overwhelmingly agree: It’s time for a system that accounts for the actual cost to educate students and doesn’t overwhelm our taxpayers with endless levies to make up for the disparities in our current funding system."

Under the House version, introduced by now-House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and state Rep. John Patterson (R-Patterson), Ohio would spend about $400 million more on school funding, and no school districts would lose money in the first year. It would determine a "base cost" for educating students in each district, and then add funding for other needs.

In a significant break from the state's current system, the Cupp-Patterson plan would end caps on school funding that have pushed many growing districts to rely on voters to approve tax levies.

Lawmakers are crunched for time to get school funding reforms passed before Dec. 31, when this legislative session ends.

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