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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

My assignment: Look at the impact of state funding on schools as classes begin

The Souers School in Canton.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
This building in Canton will soon be torn down to make way for a new elementary school, paid for through a bond issue narrowly approved by voters this spring.

As the school year gets started for many students, and for education reporters like me, it might be a good time to pause and look at how those students —whether they attend public, private or charter schools — are impacted by state funding in Ohio.

In the new biennial budget, Ohio legislators and Governor Mike DeWine likely thought they were giving a win to everyone across the political spectrum in K-12 education.

They expanded funding for private schools and charter schools — continuing a Republican-led trend of expanding that funding over the last decade — while also continuing to roll out the so-called Fair School Funding Plan.

That plan provides more state funding for school districts in general, which have long been reliant on local property taxes under a system declared unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court back in the 90s. It especially boosts those that are educating students with learning disabilities and that serve large populations of impoverished students.

Many people I've talked to lately as I report about education in the state still aren't happy. Public school advocates say the status quo has left their schools in bad shape, while charter schools are struggling to keep staff and need more money.

Even after the states sizable expansion, which jumps from $7.64 billion this fiscal year to $8.55 in fiscal year 2025, many school districts on average will be receiving less than what private school voucher recipients are getting after Ohio expanded that amount in the state budget this year.

According to an analysis first done by former Democratic State. Rep. Steve Dyer, who worked for the Ohio Education Association, almost 8 in 10 Ohio school districts will be receiving less in state funding, per-pupil, than the $8,406 per-student that private school students will be eligible for under Ohio’s expanded vouchers program.

For context, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the Akron Public Schools will still be receiving more per-student, $9,311 and $9,671 respectively, but schools like Parma will be receiving far less, about $2,500.

That’s a lot of data points, but how does that play out locally?

Well, public education advocates I've interviewed argue the state's underfunding of public education for years has led to thousands of students leaving their districts, leaving them with aging buildings that are sitting empty and budgets that can’t afford the new facilities they need. Private school advocates argue that school districts receive local taxpayer funds through levies and bond issues, but many schools this spring had a hard time getting voters to agree to increase their taxes.

Many districts, like Canton City Schools, as I reported earlier this week, are trying to consolidate their buildings — closing those old facilities — to save money. But when it comes time to build new, they need to ask voters to reach into their pocketbooks. Canton schools’ levy to fund two new elementary schools just barely passed, while Parma’s fourth attempt to fund a new high-school went down in flames this spring.

Meanwhile, teachers and students are being caught in the middle. School districts in Youngstown and Ravenna are struggling in negotiations with teachers to come to a new contract. The union at Southeast Local Schools in Ravenna, for example, said it’s hard to keep teachers in the district because pay is so low. The state budget increased the starting pay of teachers from about $26,000 to $35,000 per-year. Will that help?

Charter schools are also getting lost in the conversation about school funding. John Zitzner, founder of the Breakthrough Schools charter network in Cleveland, celebrated increased state funding for charters in the budget.

But he also said that even after those increases, charters — even high-quality ones, which are rewarded by the state with more funds — are only receiving between 66% and 90% of what public school districts get.

He said Breakthrough Schools serve the same population of high-poverty, highly-diverse students that Cleveland schools serve, noting charter schools in Ohio are also regulated similar to public schools, and must be free, non-profit and accept all students.

But despite the expansion of public-school funding, the prioritization of funding private schools still rubs public school advocates like Dyer the wrong way.

“It’s totally illogical unless you look at it through the lens of, they (Republican lawmakers) really don’t believe in public education and they’re trying to starve it by taking a couple billion dollars out of the (budget) line for public schools,” he said.

As Ideastream's education reporter, I'll continue to drill down into the role that state and local funding plays in students' education experiences.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.