It has been more than two decades since the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the state’s system of funding education was unconstitutional.
While there was hope that a new funding plan would fix the inconsistencies in school funding among the more than 600 districts in Ohio, the state House and Senate have five days to reconcile their ideas before the June 30 deadline for a new biennium state budget.
The House plan, introduced as the Fair Schools Funding Plan, is a complete rewrite of Ohio’s school funding formula. By comparison, the Senate plan offers a temporary boost in state aid for public schools and increases support for private school vouchers.
The House plan eliminates state funding caps and guarantees, creating a new formula based on the cost to educate a child in each district. The Senate included a different plan in its two-year budget introduced in June, which would increase the base cost provided by the state from $6,020 to $6,110 per student.
The House version bumps that up to $7,020.
Opponents to the Senate plan say the $90 increase in the base cost amount proposed does not keep pace with inflation.
According to a report by the Ohio Education Policy Institute, inflation since fiscal year 2019 has been 6.0%. However, the increase from $6,020 to $6,110 is only 1.5%.
Numbers supplied by Policy Matters Ohio show Bowling Green City Schools would benefit the most among the nine school districts in Wood County under the House plan.
The district would receive $2.6 million more in state aid in six years.
Bowling Green Superintendent Francis Scruci signed the petition in support of the Fair Schools Funding Plan.
“We hoped that the fair funding law would be passed as it was presented by Cupp-Patterson,” Scruci said. “It was the first genuine move towards a fair funding model and it would benefit all public schools.”
He thanked the House members who supported the bill as presented and singled out Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, who voted in support.
The bill got to the Senate and changed, Scruci said.
Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, in an email, said that education funding has increased greatly since she joined the legislature in 2016, and both the Senate and House proposals would further increase that funding.
“As I have told superintendents, the media, teachers, parents, students and any other person who has asked me about it, I have and still do support the ‘Fair School Funding Plan’ and if the bill were to come up for a vote in the Senate I would support it. However, there has not been a bill to come before me where I have had the opportunity to cast a vote either way for the ‘Fair School Funding Plan,’” Gavarone said.
Lake Local Schools Superintendent Jim Witt has been vocal in the past about the lack of equity in the current funding system. He also supports the House plan.
“That was devised by treasurers and superintendents and other people in the education field,” he said.
Lake would receive $640,502 in additional funds over the next six years.
“It was the fairest plan we’ve seen in my career,” Witt said. “I thought the reasoning being the fair funding plan … really took into account the whole child and the ability of each community to pay their fair share. That was the bedrock for that plan.”
Witt said he couldn’t compare the two bills under consideration in Columbus.
“I know that the House bill does not favor EdChoice like the Senate bill does,” he said.
The Senate bill proposes increasing per pupil spending for Ohio’s EdChoice scholarships. Funding for those scholarships would come directly from the state and not be siphoned from the home district of the student as was done in the past.
Witt pointed out that families could receive more money so there could be more of an incentive for students to attend a private school – thus still creating a loss to a district as it loses state funding for those kids.
“I think it’s a good solid plan,” said Rossford Schools Treasurer Jamie Rossler about the House bill. “The committee actually looked at what education costs.”
He said he was concerned about the potential increase of the amount offered through EdChoice scholarships. He didn’t expect it to affect Rossford, given the new facilities and quality staff, but worried about the potential flight from inner city schools.
Ryan Delaney, superintendent at North Baltimore Local Schools, said he was in a wait-and-see mode.
“It continually changes,” he said. “We’re waiting to see what happens.”
His district would get $1.2 million in additional funding over the next six years with the House plan.
Eastwood Local Schools would get a minor increase in funding, just $159,327 more, but more important is the way the House plan funds education, said Superintendent Brent Welker.
“The Fair Schools Funding Plan is critical because for the first time in my entire career, we can explain to our community why we’re getting money and how much money is being assigned,” he said.
In the past, the state used residual budgeting when it came to funding education, Welker said.. Legislators determined how much they had to spend, then created funding to live within that budget, he said.
When schools districts develop their five-year forecast, they have to estimate funding for at least two years.
With the proposed House plan, “getting something phased in … so that things are predictable” is a better funding system, Welker said.
“The Senate has tried to come up with a funding form, but it doesn’t use current costs,” Welker said, adding that they “concocted and released” the plan after only a few hearings.
The Fair Schools Funding Plan took years to develop with dozens of hearings and meetings with legislators. It also passed in the House with bipartisan support, he said.
“It’s disappointing. We had the opportunity to do this right,” Welker said. “It’s telling when the fair funding formula testimony was heard in the Senate committee and the committee chair wasn’t even there. That tells us the Fair School Funding Plan wasn’t seriously considered by the Senate.”
The House’s school funding formula took three years to develop, using the Cupp-Patterson plan formulated by House Speaker Bob Cupp and Rep. John Patterson. It would base state funding on the cost to educate a child in each school district, rather than relying on statewide averages.
According to a story published in the Lima News, Senate President Matt Huffman has said he thinks the House formula could send costs soaring in the later years of its implementation – making it unaffordable for future general assemblies.
“They passed a series of guarantees unrelated to costs,” Huffman said earlier this month. “We have a system based on actual costs.”
The six-year phase-in of the House’s funding formula includes annual spending of nearly $2 billion. The Senate plan increases funding for education from $9.84 billion this year to $10.53 billion in fiscal year 2023, according to the Thomas Fordham Institute.
Three statewide education management organizations earlier this month announced a report published by the Ohio Education Policy Institute that analyzes the Ohio Senate’s proposed school-funding formula.
The Senate proposal harkens back to the state’s funding formula last used in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the report said.
The report was commissioned by the Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators and Ohio Association of School Business Officials. It reveals weaknesses in the Senate’s plan that the groups say could prove extremely difficult for lawmakers in the next state budget.
Howard Fleeter, an economist and school-funding consultant for the institute, said not only does the Senate proposal restore a years-old formula, his analysis also revealed that the Senate does not update key data to determine the state and local share of education funding.
Fleeter’s findings call attention to the complications this poses for future legislatures as updates to the formula become necessary.
“By using data that is now three bienniums old, the Senate’s school funding proposal will create significant disruptions and likely be much more costly in the FY24-25 biennium when property values, income and enrollment are updated,” Fleeter said.
DeRolph v. State, originally filed in 1991, challenged the constitutionality of Ohio’s school funding system. The Ohio Supreme Court issued four decisions in the case between 1997 and 2002, holding that the system that was enacted by the General Assembly was unconstitutional.
School funding redo
Based on information from Policy Matters Ohio, the amount each of Wood County schools would get in the next six years under the House plan include:
• Bowling Green: $2.6 million more, to $9.2 million
• Eastwood: $159,327 more, to $6.6 million
• Elmwood: $192,277 less, to $7.1 million
• Lake: $640,402 more, to $6.9 million
• Northwood: $2,141,525 more, to $6.6 million
• North Baltimore: $1,197,132 more, to $5.4 million
• Otsego: $55,364 more, to $5.9 million
• Perrysburg: $860,839 more, to $11.3 million
• Rossford: $76,128 less, to $3.6 million
The net amount that each district would receive from the Senate bill was not available.