Proposed school funding plan lauded

By David J. Coehrs - [email protected]

Pending legislation for a state school funding plan developed by Ohio school administrators and funding experts is receiving high marks from at least two local school districts.

The Fair School Funding Plan (FSFP), introduced in the form of House Bill 305, which passed Dec. 4, and Senate Bill 376, offers a three-pronged strategy that includes determining a base cost for educating a student based on school district demographics; shared funding between the state and local taxpayers, who would pay a 60/40 split between property valuation and income; and categorical funding to determine the actual costs of safety and mental health programs and educations for disadvantaged and gifted students and those with disabilities or the need to learn English.

Sponsored by Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and District 99 State Representative John Patterson, the plan was developed over three years by a team of school superintendents and treasurers and school funding experts. It has been endorsed by the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA), the Ohio Association of of School Business Officials (OASBO), and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA), who sent a joint letter to individual members of the state House and Senate urging their support.

“(The team members) drew on their own extensive experience in educating students and operating school districts to make recommendations for a school funding system that meets the needs of all Ohio’s students in the 21st century,” the letter states.

The letter is a response to the DeRolph case of 1997 – which declared Ohio’s school funding system unconstitutional – and states: “More than 23 years since that decision, the FSFP delivers the adequate and equitable level of funding necessary to provide appropriate and meaningful opportunities for all public-school students across the state.”

Will Schwartz, OSBA deputy director of legislative services, said he unequivocally supports both the House and Senate bills.

“This is a plan that we believe is constitutional when it’s fully funded and fully implemented, and it’s something that the entire membership of Ohio’s public school districts – its school leaders, its educators, paraprofessionals – all strongly support and urge the General Assembly to act quickly,” he said.

Schwartz said the plan provides “a rational, fair way of funding schools” that relies on state data, national statistics, and best practices during a period when Ohio has no school funding formula for the biennium budget period. School districts statewide are currently experiencing a $300 million funding cut annually.

And, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state has frozen educational funding through Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021.

The FSFP provides specific funding components that meet the unique needs of students from low income families, those with disabilities, and those learning English, among others, Schwartz said. Presently, the General Assembly has arbitrarily determined a figure of $6,020 to educate each child, he said.

Schwartz said he supports the plan’s use of both property valuations and resident income to determine the cost of education students. “It’s the local school district’s capacity or wealth to determine its local share. Right now, we rely on property values almost exclusively to determine the local share,” he said.

He also appreciates the plan’s intention to directly fund charter and STEM schools and state voucher programs, the latter for which public school districts are currently required to pay from their budgets. “It removes the accounting issues that both entities have and provides a simpler way of funding these entities,” Schwartz said.

The state’s haphazard method of determining school funding has been a deterrent for equitable distribution, said Kevin Miller, BASA director of governmental relations. He said legislators have never seriously addressed that the state’s school funding was ruled unconstitutional.

The Fair School Funding Plan would be a game-changer, Miller said.

“It is finally a constitutionally-sound way to fund schools in the State of Ohio,” he said. “It’s clear, it’s transparent, it’s definable, it’s defensible. I think it’s fair to say never in history have we had a school funding formula that’s so clearly and easily defined so that anybody can understand it.”

When fully implemented, “this plan would meet the benchmark of equity and adequacy and finally provide the funding needed to our school systems across the state of Ohio,” Miller said.

He said development of an objective, viable plan to fund Ohio schools took so long “because legislators keep kicking the can down the road.” He said with each new Ohio biennium budget legislators would attempt to fund schools within the arena of a developing a budget bill.

“You can’t do that,” Miller said. “You can’t figure out in a couple months’ period how to develop an objective formula that is fair to every school system in the state of Ohio. That’s what they keep trying to do.”

Wauseon schools Superintendent Troy Armstrong supports both HB 305 and SB 376. “Providing direct funding to the educating entity is important,” he said.

Calling the FSFP “clear and transparent,” he said it’s based on concrete data points given at this point in time and allows for balanced funding shared at state and local levels. He also noted the plan allows for adjustments to funding levels so consistency and fairness are maintained.

“Funds would no longer flow through the resident district which has always been a poor way to fund non-public and charter schools,” Armstrong said. “(P)ublic funds should not be used to educate students at a non-public or charter school. The voucher program must be funded totally by the government.”

Since Ohio’s system of school funding was ruled unconstitutional 23 years ago no subsequent plan has addressed key issues, said Chris Lake, Swanton Local Schools superintendent. He said he supports FSFP because it’s based on the actual cost of educating a student “and provides a clear rationale for how dollars are to be allocated in the ‘base cost.’ The new system also takes into account the ability of the local community to contribute to the funding of the schools.”

Lake also agrees that money provided to eligible students from poorly-performing public schools so they may instead attend charter and private schools shouldn’t be taken from the districts they currently attend.

“I still object to the diversion of public funds to private institutions that have no accountability to the public as to how they spend those dollars,” he said.

By David J. Coehrs

[email protected]

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.