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Senate unveils plan to fund Ohio schools

Ohio’s 612 public school districts would receive $717 million in the next two years more than this year under the state Senate’s education plan unveiled Thursday.

The plan adds $142 million to the basic state aid formula proposed by Gov. John Kasich and revised by the House of Representatives earlier this year. The Senate also boosted House efforts to fund the third-grade reading guarantee and pre-kindergarten education.

Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said the 11 percent two-year increase would be the largest by the General Assembly in the last 10 years.

“It is a significant investment across the spectrum,” Faber said.

House and Senate Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to boost education funding after schools faced state budget cuts and lost federal stimulus funding. An amendment to start a $500 million fund, paid by raising rates for the top two income tax brackets, that would help poor districts was rejected by GOP senators.

In their $13.7 billion plan, Senate Republicans raised the caps on how much more districts can receive each year under the formula, giving more money to fast-growing districts tied to budgets based on fewer students. Outside the funding formula, lawmakers proposed $30 million for preschool vouchers and $207 million to support teaching literacy in kindergarten through third grade.

Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, had pitched $100 million for preschool education, but said the Senate plan is a good start. Lehner said lawmakers are still working on the details of the program, but she would like some money to go toward improving quality or adding more seats at public preschool programs.

“Overall we’ve arrived at a pretty good place, we’re able to spend a little more money,” Lehner said. “I think it’s a very fair formula and I’m anticipating a generally good reception for this.”

Senate Republicans did not change the governor’s voucher expansion pilot program, which would allow low-income students to attend private schools beginning with kindergartners in the 2013-14 school year and adding first-graders in 2014-15.

All districts receive the same or more funding as current levels, one of the governor’s goals in his plan. Preliminary district numbers released Thursday show many Miami Valley districts would receive more than the two previous plans.

For example, one southwest Ohio school district — Hamilton City Schools — would receive about $56.7 million in fiscal year 2014, a 6.25 percent increase, and $62 million in FY15, a 9.35 percent increase.

That would be more funding for the district than the House GOP plan, which would provide 6 percent increases both years, or $55 million and $58.3 million, respectively.

“We’re certainly pleased with the increases we’re seeing proposed on the simulations,” said Bob Hamilton, treasurer for the district which has about 10,000 students. “However, we do have significant concerns about 80 percent of our students being eligible for vouchers based upon their income.”

The plan is the latest in a line of failed attempts to adequately and equitably fund public education since the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the state’s funding mechanism unconstitutional.

Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, said the Senate GOP plan is not only constitutional but more fair and equal.

“This investment in education is something that many of us that have been here over a decade working to do,” Widener said.

Staff writer Margo Rutledge Kissell contributed to this report.

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