Plan brings big ideas, more money, lots of questions
Jessica Brown and Denise Smith Amos report:
Governor John Kasich offered a new way of funding schools Thursday he says will be more equitable for poor and rural districts and add to the school choices of working class families.
His budget plan also creates pots of money for “best-practice” grants to districts and to help educate certain groups of students like those with disabilities or who are learning English as a second language. He even gave a slight nod to early childhood education.
The plan raises the amount of state aid going to education in the next two years and Kasich promised no district will see a reduction in that amount next year, even with the changes he’s proposing.
He didn’t say how he plans to pay for much of it. He also didn’t offer a specific funding formula by which districts can plan their five-year forecasts.
State officials estimate his budget will spend $7.4 billion on preschool-through-grade 12 education in the 2013-14 school year and $7.7 billion in the following year. Kasich plans reveal his entire biennial budget proposal Monday.
This year, state aid to schools – which included basic aid and reimbursements for certain business tax reductions – totaled nearly $6.1 billion, said Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesman.
It’s unclear from the initial discussion what would happen after the biennium. Kasich hinted that he wants school districts to wean themselves off of a guaranteed amount of state aid, but he didn’t say when or how.
With this plan, Kasich, who is up for re-election in 2014, became the fourth governor to try to fix school funding since the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the state’s method unconstitutional in 1997 because education funding relies too much on local property taxes. The plan must still be approved by the state Senate and the House.
Here are the highlights:
How much money is it?
Kasich promised state aid to districts will be flat in the coming year.
“No school district will receive less money next year than this year on the formula,” said Dick Ross, director of 21st century education for the Kasich administration. The amount of “general revenue funds” going to the state’s more than 600 school districts will be $6.2 billion the first year and $6.4 billion in the second year. That’s up from $6.1 billion this year, though it doesn’t make up for revenue districts lost in federal pass-through stimulus dollars. Kasich’s plan also adds a $300 million pot of incentive money called the “straight A fund” that will bump that state aid total up to $7.4 billion the first year and $7.7 billion in the second year.
But one complaint has been that state funding hasn’t been distributed equitably among school districts. Kasich hopes his plan will fix that.
A new way to fund schools
Currently schools are funded with a mix of state, federal and local dollars. The amount of state dollars depends on the amount of local tax dollars generated and what the state has said are minimum costs of education.
But the system results in too much disparity, Kasich said, with some students getting a poor or an adequate education based on where they live.
He says his plan will make education funding more equitable because the state will contribute more dollars to districts that have high concentrations of poverty or low property values.
He wants to also set aside extra money for disabled, poor or non-English speaking students.
Vouchers and charters
The plan expands the state’s Educational Choice voucher program – stipends families use to send their child to a private school. Under the plan, any family whose household income is below 200 percent of the poverty line (about $46,100 for a family of four) could apply for a voucher, not just families living near persistently failing schools. The vouchers will at first be available for kindergarteners in the next school year and will expand to include first grade students in the second year. Vouchers will also be available for students in grades K-3 whose schools are not improving in literacy performance.
“Straight A Fund”
The plan creates a $300 million pot of money to provide one-time grants to districts for projects that improve their effectiveness. Projects could include modernizing operations or improving achievement. Details are vague. The goal is to “move schools more from the schools my father and mother … attended to the schools of the 21st century that will prepare students for the jobs they need,” Ross said.
- Students with disabilities
Kasich’s plan includes $100 million to cover the “catastrophic costs” of educating kids with severe disabilities. For example, some students can cost a districts $100,000 annually to educate because of their special needs. This money would let districts get reimbursed for more of that cost.
- English-language learners
The plan will give extra money to districts to help offset the additional costs of educating students who are not native English speakers. (The state makes these students take state achievement tests in English after two years.) Kasich’s plan would allocate $1,500 per pupil in the first year. That child would get 75 percent of that next year and 50 percent the third year. An ongoing stipend will help schools pay for translation services for parents who don’t speak English.
- Early Childhood
The plan allocates $90 million a year to fund preschools for children who live in high-poverty areas and who don’t have access to quality preschools. Cincinnati Public Schools, for example, has a 400-student waiting list to get into preschool programs.
- Low-income students
The plan will allocate additional per-pupil funding above and beyond basic state aid for “economically disadvantaged” students. The amount was not specified.
The plan gives districts $50 per student per year to identify and educate gifted students.