Officials still in the dark on contents of Kasich’s formula
Denise Smith Amos reports:
Gov. John Kasich is expected to release a new school funding formula this week, becoming the fourth Ohio governor to try to fix a funding system the state Supreme Court has said is inequitable and unconstitutional.
But so far, not even the school districts and legislators know what to expect.
A group of legislators met with Cincinnati-area districts on Friday, and each group asked the other if they had any inside knowledge.
No one did, said Ken Dirr, director of the Hamilton County Educational Service Center, which hosted the event.
“Not even the legislators know. They say they have no idea and have been kept out of it,” Dirr said.
Although Kasich has kept his plans close to the vest, most school leaders in the Cincinnati region say they expect no increase in state funding for the next two years. Others fear a worst-case scenario.
“The (new funding) formula could result in a reduction in funding,” said Larry McDonough, Lockland schools treasurer. “I suppose I could put equal weight on an increase, but I’m just not feeling it.”
The state’s school funding formula is important because it affects the quality of education at Ohio’s public schools – how state and local taxes are spent, the quality of academic and other programs at each school, and how often schools seek to raise local property taxes.
So far this year Milford, Forest Hills and Oak Hills have all announced they’ll seek school tax levies or bonds on the May ballot.
Since the 1991 DeRolph v. State of Ohio lawsuit, Ohio policymakers – including governors and lawmakers of both parties – have tried to change the way Ohio’s schools are funded. The state supreme court has ruled four times that Ohio’s system is unconstitutional.
The crux of those rulings: School funding is too reliant on local property tax values, resulting in unfair funding and programming gaps between school districts and stark differences in education quality for Ohio students based on where they live and how much money their families earn.
The inequalities have become more glaring, school leaders say, with the recession and repeated defeats of local school levies. Some districts have cut music, art, gym and their libraries, while others are busing fewer kids or charging hundreds of dollars per student for sports and other extracurricular activities.
“We have a lot of districts around the state that are offering the bare minimums,” said Barbara Shaner, associate director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officers in Columbus.
“We have a lot of lower-wealth districts … not able to offer AP (advance placement) courses or multiple language opportunities or even the arts.”
But it’s unclear whether Kasich’s school plan will level the field.
Area school districts are bracing for cuts
Some Southwest Ohio school districts are bracing for cuts, new funding formula or not.
Northwest Local School District treasurer Randy Bertram is already budgeting for 5 percent less money from the state than last year.
“By law we’re required to have five-year forecasts,” Bertram said. “This governor has left us in the dark each year he’s been in the seat.”
Lakota, one of the region’s largest school districts, is assuming 1 percent less in state funding, said treasurer Jenni Logan.
But other district leaders find some hope among the rumors swirling around the topic.
Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan said part of the new formula may include a pot of money to fund innovation projects at districts. She and a delegation of CPS administrators already crafted a proposal and took it to Kasich’s budget staff on Jan. 11.
They’re asking for $28 million to fund 20 preschool classrooms, 42 literacy specialists and projects ranging from summer school to blended learning to Teach for America stipends.
How Ohio’s school funding works
In Ohio, the bill for a child’s public education is divvied up between the local community and the state in addition to some federal dollars. How much a community pays in school levies or income tax increases varies because of the way Ohio’s school funding formula is structured.
The funding system is supposed to funnel a larger percentage of state dollars to poorer districts. But there are some glitches. Cincinnati Public Schools and a handful of other Ohio districts with substantial poverty rates are actually considered wealthy by the state because there’s a lot of commercial property that can be taxed for schools.
Cleveland’s school system, for example, receives more than 70 percent of its money from the state, whereas only 32 percent of Cincinnati’s budget is money from the state. Taxpayers pay most of that balance via school levies. Cincinnati Public and various community groups have been lobbying for a change to the formula for years.
A few states, like Kentucky and Michigan, centralize most school funding and control over school spending. They also limit how much local taxpayers can augment state spending. Kentucky also limits how much local districts can raise taxes for schools.