July 23, 2014

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Governor unveils his plan to overhaul school funding

COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. John Kasich unveiled a school-funding overhaul today that he said is aimed at helping students in poor districts compete while introducing changes meant to reward and highlight innovation.

The Republican governor’s long-awaited plan would boost districts that are lagging behind in property values and household incomes. Kasich education advisers said no schools would see reduced funding next year under the current formula, to allow them time to adjust. A special fund with $300 million in additional money would be created to reward districts for innovation and efficiency.

“This is a plan that says that every student in any part of the state, regardless of what kind of district they come from, should be given the resources to be able to compete with a child across the state,” Kasich said before a meeting Thursday afternoon to brief school superintendents on the plan.

The plan dubbed “Achievement Everywhere” also means to help districts with the extra costs of special-needs students, to provide more school choice, such as expanding vouchers for parents to move children from low-performing schools to private ones. There is also funding help planned for districts with high levels of poverty where students don’t have access to preschool programs, and other aid to help them reach Ohio’s new third grade reading proficiency target.

There are also steps to increase transparency about school efficiency and performance, and to encourage districts to learn from the successes of comparable districts. Kasich advisers said funding changes would bring all schools up to the tax base level of a district with $250,000 in property value per student, a figure they said was at the 96th percentile of districts statewide, and direct dollars away from administration costs into the classroom.

Kasich told school administrators that while he knew many were worried about cuts, the state’s financial stewardship allows more funding which he said his administration wants to be sure benefits students directly.

“We want to get those dollars into the classroom,” Kasich said.

Kasich aides said state formula funding for K-12 districts would rise nearly 6 percent in fiscal year 2014, and 3.2 percent the next year. School budgets have been pounded by declines in other revenue sources, including the end of federal stimulus dollars, the phasing out of a state business tax and declining property values in many areas.

The governor planned an online town hall at 6 p.m. allowing members of the public to submit questions. School funding decisions for Ohio’s 613 school districts and 353 charter schools are likely to affect many tax bills, home values and the quality of the education children receive.

The long-awaited plan is expected to kick off months of debate over Ohio’s educational direction.

Kasich said his plan would “strip all the politics” out of the funding issue, but even before its release, there was criticism from some Democrats and teacher union officials that Kasich hadn’t involved them in development of his plan.

Ohio has been effectively without a school funding formula since 2009.

Kasich scrapped Democratic predecessor Ted Strickland’s attempt at a solution, an “evidence-based model” criticized as theoretical and unfunded. While Kasich initially predicted he’d have his formula ready by October 2011, it’s taken him more than an additional year to come up with a plan.

In the two decades since the Ohio Supreme Court first declared the state’s school funding system unconstitutional, many other attempts at a workable solution have been made.

One plan looked to spending by academically successful schools as the benchmark for districts statewide. Another sent a set amount per student to each district, with additional weight given to how many pupils a district had in poverty or in special programs. Strickland’s plan identified education strategies that were scientifically proven to work, then tried phasing them in.

According to legislative budget analysts, primary and secondary education accounted for almost 42 percent of state general revenue spending in fiscal 2011 and 40 percent in fiscal 2012.

While the state has waited for a new formula, Ohio school districts have continued to receive what they got in 2009 with a few adjustments that included assurances that no district receive less than in the previous fiscal year, and extra money for those demonstrating excellence.