Ohio lawmakers considering public input on proposed changes to school funding are hearing from interested parties who say it's a solid start, but want more: more money for certain schools, more clarity on charter-school funding changes and more help for the economically disadvantaged.
Two proposals are on the table. One, crafted through a workgroup led by two lawmakers, would increase spending on schools by an estimated $1.2 billion over two years. The other, part of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine's budget proposal, calls for $550 million in new funding for services such as mental health counseling and after-school programs, especially in higher-poverty areas.
Ohio's school-funding system has been repeatedly adjusted since the state Supreme Court found it unconstitutional 22 years ago in what's known as the DeRolph case. Advocates say fairer funding could help address an achievement gap correlating to poverty.
"It's getting more and more difficult to pour from an empty cup," Vinton County schools Superintendent Rick Brooks wrote in testimony last week for an Ohio House subcommittee. His schools, in an area devastated by the opioid epidemic, would see no increase in under the lawmakers' plan, he noted.
Many testifying before the panel agreed more money should be directed toward poorer students and schools. Many also support factoring in the basic cost of educating a child, funding charter schools directly rather than through local districts, and ending existing caps on funding for districts gaining students. Those are key elements of the plan from state Reps. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and John Patterson (D-Jefferson).
They contend their proposal would more fairly split local and state shares of funding and account for a community's ability to help pay for educating kids, looking not just at property values but local income levels. They said no school districts would lose money next year, and more than 500 of the 610 districts would get additional funding during the upcoming two-year budget.
Their proposal drew praise from groups including the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials and the Ohio Education Association teachers union. But those groups also raised concern that some of the poorest districts would see no or comparatively little immediate increase.
"We can and must do better by these students," Jennifer Hogue of OSBA wrote in prepared testimony. "We can choose to invest in their success now or we can pay for the consequences of ignoring them later."
Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon noted districts with flat funding would include four of the big urban districts — Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown. Those would get significant increases under DeWine's proposal, though, Gordon said.
Economist Howard Fleeter of the nonpartisan Ohio Education Policy Institute has been analyzing school-funding proposals for decades. He said DeWine's plan reflects that schools trying to educate high concentrations of low-income students need more resources, and he urged the lawmakers to better reflect that in their plan.
The Ohio Federation of Teachers suggested reallocating much of the new funding from DeWine's proposal toward disadvantaged students and wraparound services.
Two former state lawmakers weighed in, too.
Stephen Dyer with the liberal think tank Innovation Ohio suggested the state has a "Robin Hood problem" after years of limiting state funding for wealthier districts to direct more money to poorer ones. He said trying to fix it in one budget seems "a bit much."
School Choice Ohio President and CEO Kevin Bacon noted the Cupp-Patterson plan doesn't deal in detail with funding for charter schools and scholarships that support school choice. He said any plan must also consider the nearly 200,000 students being educated outside of traditional public schools, such as at private schools or charter schools.