In each of the past two years, the Lakota school district has cut in excess of $10 million from its operating budget. On Thursday, Jan. 31, Ohio Gov. John Kasich revealed his proposal to fund education. The proposal increases state funding for education by $1.2 billion over two years, funding education at $7.4 billion in 2013-2014 and $7.7 billion the following year. File photo.
Denise Smith Amos and Jessica Brown report:
There was a lot to like in Republican Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to fund education, which he revealed Thursday as part of his upcoming biennial budget plan.
The proposal increases state funding for education by $1.2 billion over two years, funding education at $7.4 billion in 2013-2014 and $7.7 billion the following year.
Kasich said his plan would more equitably spread state dollars to districts.
“We are now delivering (education funding) based on people’s ability to pay,” Kasich told superintendents in Columbus Thursday.
But Democratic legislators and left-leaning groups complained the proposal doesn’t go far enough to make up for school funding cuts in the last two years, which, they said, caused districts to ask voters for local levies totaling more than $1 billion in new taxes.
“Unfortunately, the proposed funding in this plan is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $1.8 billion Gov. Kasich cut from schools during his last budget,” said Ohio House Democratic Leader Armond Budish, from Beachwood.
If lawmakers pass Kasich’s education plan, there will be more state money for many school districts – especially those with low property values or lots of low-income students – and more money for charter schools and private schools via vouchers.
There also will be extra funds for students who are disabled, low income or learning to speak English, and extra money for districts trying new improvements. The state will even increase what it sends to districts for kindergarten to help pay for all-day kindergarten programs, prompting a cheer from his audience of superintendents.
They were also pleased that their basic aid funding won’t be cut.
“Every superintendent was happy that no district is getting less money,” said Mary Ronan, Cincinnati Public Schools superintendent. “I like how (the governor) is looking to make schools more efficient.”
Districts are supposed to learn next week exactly how much they’d receive under Kasich’s plan. Many superintendents tempered their comments until then.
Ronan said she hopes the state lives up to Kasich’s promise to consider local taxpayers’ “ability to pay” for schools when deciding the amount to send to Cincinnati Public. Cincinnati has historically gotten less money than other big-city districts, she said, since the state considers the district “property wealthy” because of its downtown businesses, even though most of its families are low income.
Now income will be considered too, so Cincinnati may get more money from the state, she said.
After Kasich’s speech, detractors criticized his plan’s increased funding of school choice options such as charter schools and tuition vouchers for private schools. Public school advocates say expanding those programs will ultimately dismantle public schools, which must serve all students in their areas, while private and charter schools don’t have to.
Kasich’s proposal would broaden who qualifies for Ohio’s private school tuition vouchers, called Educational Choice Scholarships, to include low-income students from all districts, not just those who live near under-performing public schools.
And charter schools, which received $775 million last year from the state, will enjoy a 2 percent or more increase in per-student funding and $100 per student for facilities’ costs, long a complaint among operators here.
“It’s better than being cut or flat-lined,” said Terry Ryan, a vice president at Fordham Institute. Fordham sponsors charter schools, including Phoenix Community Learning Center in Avondale.
“For a school of 400 students, that could fund a couple teachers,” he said.
Loveland Superintendent John Marschhausen said he liked Kasich’s plans to fund innovations and improvements.
“It is a fair proposal that provides for equity, quality, creativity and transparency,” he said. “This budget proposal encourages school leaders to step up, take risks and push our education system to the next level.”
Kasich’s plan includes $100 million to help districts pay for students with severe and expensive disabilities.
This could be a boon for districts like Mason City Schools, which last year spent $122,000 and $114,000 on two children, respectively, who are medically fragile and have hearing and vision needs. Both students require a full-time nurse, a paraprofessional, an interpreter and special transportation, said Tracey Carson, district spokeswoman.
Under the current system, the state paid less than 35 percent of the costs.
Ann Sheldon, executive director of Ohio’s Association for Gifted Children, said she was encouraged that Kasich proposed $85 million in gifted education funding, but she still worries about how districts will spend that – how much will help gifted students directly, as opposed to programs that will help every student in the district.
She said 375 districts have cut their gifted services since 2008-09 and 201 districts provide no gifted services at all.
“The largest unknown factor is accountability,” Sheldon said. “I assume that if the governor is willing to put substantial funding into gifted education that he would want gifted children to actually benefit from those funds.”
Districts with a large number of students learning English will get $1,500 per student the first year and less money per student for each consecutive year. It’s the first time the state created this funding category.
Princeton and Cincinnati are expected to benefit. Princeton’s limited-English population was fifth highest in the state in the 2010-11 school year – 585 students, about 11 percent of its population that year. CPS has 3.7 percent limited-English students, or almost 1,200 kids.
Despite these special funds, critics say some things are missing in the plan.
Some school leaders complained that the plan doesn’t specifically target funds to the Third Grade Reading Guarantee; Ohio’s transition to Common Core college-prep curricula and testing; pay-for-performance bonuses for successful teachers; or technology investments.
The plan “does nothing to assure that students have enough resources to meet higher standards and expectations,” said Andrew Benson, executive director of Ohio Education Matters, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks in Cincinnati.
“The Kasich administration gets good marks for including some helpful ideas to get more money to disadvantaged students and poor school districts and for promoting efficiencies. But the plan does not do enough to tie resources to the academic outcomes they want to achieve.”
Superintendents at Kasich’s speech asked about expanding funds for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instruction and for school security upgrades.
Little Miami Schools Superintendent Greg Power wanted Kasich’s plan to point new funds toward state mandates for public school districts.
“The state has already sent us many new unfunded mandates like the Third Grade Reading Guarantee and the new teacher evaluation system that we are attempting to implement while in fiscal emergency,” he said. “We can’t help but be concerned with how any additional programs the governor has proposed may affect our path forward.”
Paul Kostyu and Michael D. Clark of the Enquirer staff contributed.
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