Gov. John Kasich’s school funding plan tackles growing disparity between poor and wealthy school districts and allows Ohio students living in poverty to attend private schools with state dollars, while boosting overall state funding for public schools.
Kasich rolled out his school funding formula and other education policies Thursday to school superintendents attending a conference north of Columbus and statewide through a “virtual townhall meeting."
Kasich said school districts will receive at least as much money for the next two years as they did this year. Kasich’s budget proposal boosts state aid by$1.2 billion over two years including $548 million more for base funding for school districts.
About 11 percent of the funding comes from state lottery profits and the rest from general revenue funds, which Kasich said is the product of an improved state economy.
“No one’s going to lose in this proposal, and this has happened because we’ve been good stewards,” Kasich said.
Kasich’s office did not release specific numbers for how the formula affects individual districts. A Kasich spokesman said district breakdowns will likely be available late next week.
“There’s no trap doors — there’s no way to take from one and give to another,” Kasich said.
Michelle Prater, spokeswoman for the Ohio Education Association, said the teachers union doesn’t want to comment until the exact appropriations are known. The OEA, Democrats, school district superintendents and others have lamented the $1.8 billion in state and federal funding Ohio schools lost in the last two-year budget.
“It’s clear this upcoming budget proposal doesn’t restore budget cuts from the previous cycle that were detrimental to Ohio students at the local level,” Prater said. “And look no further than your newspaper or the local school levies on the ballot.”
The new formula does provide relief for districts where property values don’t generate much local revenue as wealthier districts. Barb Mattei-Smith, Kasich’s assistant policy director for education, said a 20-mill levy only generates $900 per pupil in the state’s poorest district, but the same 20-mill levy generates $1,400 per pupil in the state’s wealthiest district.
The base funding formula aims to equalize school districts of varying wealth by providing the difference between what 20 mills generates in a district and what it would generate if it had a $250,000 per-pupil property tax base. Poorer school districts would receive additional funding based 50 percent on a district property wealth and 50 percent on personal income wealth.
“If you live in a district that has greater wealth, we’re going to expect you to help yourself,” Kasich said in the Thursday night town hall meeting.
Kasich proposed several new programs outside of the school funding formula, including $300 million in one-time grants for innovations that lead to cost-reductions.
The voucher program would provide $8.5 million in fiscal year 2014 and $17 million in fiscal year 2015 from a separate fund and would not be deducted from school districts. Students in households below 200 percent of federal poverty level — a family of four making $46,100 or less in 2012 — would be eligible.
Students entering kindergarten would be eligible in the first year and the program would expand to first grade and kindergarten in 2014-15. Vouchers would also be offered to students in schools that fail to pass third-graders who read at grade level.
The vouchers would be paid from a separate fund and would not be deducted from school districts.
Currently, Ohio offers private school vouchers to students attending chronically low-performing schools through the EdChoice program. EdChoice vouchers cover $4,250 for elementary and middle school students and $5,000 for high school students, a portion of what public schools receive per student.
Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said the voucher program needs a closer look because it could be costly to sustain. Lehner, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said Kasich’s plan seems constitutional.
“The devil’s in the details but from what I’ve seen, the details that I do know, I like that I see,” Lehner said. “I think it’s going to drive considerable more money into the schools — exactly how much, we’ll see what the spreadsheets say.”
The proposal does not change the state’s guarantee provision that ensures each school district does not receive less state aid than the previous year. Kasich said guarantees are political and asked superintendents to think about how to change them.
“Some school districts have seen their populations drop in half but have continued to see their funding go up,” Kasich said. “It gives us a fairly equal base to build on meeting the needs of our individual students,” Mattei-Smith said. “Many of our students come into the classroom with challenges that exist beyond what can be dealt with just the daily activities of the teachers. Our teachers need more support, our students may need more support.”
Dick Ross, Kasich’s director of 21st century education, said guarantee funding was kept in place as school districts “wean themselves off” state aid to replace revenues lost from phased-out taxes.
“It’s not a school funding plan; it’s an educational improvement plan,” Ross said.