Not a day goes by where officials in public schools across Ohio don’t worry about paying the bills. Teachers, administrators, support staff, classroom materials, building maintenance, computers, buses, heat, water, electricity all are needed to make schools run.
The challenge to identify a reliable formula to pay for public schools continues to be a difficult problem to solve. Traditionally, districts get some money from the state and also ask residents to approve property tax and/or income tax levies.
Ever since 1997, when the Ohio Supreme Court determined that the state’s public education funding formula linked to property values was unconstitutional, legislators have been searching for an equitable solution.
After more than a year of meetings, a group of state lawmakers and educators have come up with a proposal called the Fair School Funding Plan. Two of the main people behind the plan are state Reps. Bob Cupp, R-Lima and John Patterson, D-Jefferson who say the formula heads in the right direction in terms of being constitutional, easier to understand and transparent.
Like some Chagrin Valley education officials, we are cautiously optimistic. The plan, however, needs to be better explained to Ohio citizens.
Kenston Local School District Treasurer Phillip Butto said the Fair School Funding Plan formula is the closest he has seen to measuring the true cost of education in his more than two decades in the field.
Committee members say about 85 percent of school districts will see increases in funding. We see few significant changes for Chagrin Valley and Geauga County districts.
Under the proposal, 60 percent of a district’s share of the funding would be based on district property values and 40 percent on residents’ income. This would reduce, but not eliminate, the current dependence on property values. The plan would increase aid to schools across Ohio by about 6 percent for the next academic year and 4 percent the following year. The majority of school districts’ funding would remain the same next year.
While these numbers are far from perfect, committee members say they are better than the current formula that does not work for about 82 percent of Ohio public districts.
The new proposal lacks balance. For example, it would increase Columbus City School District’s state funding by $5.5 million next year and $16.2 million the year after that. Cleveland Municipal School District, however, would get no increases. The most dramatic change could occur in the Kelleys Island Local School District that now gets $1,159 per student annually and would get $72,327 per pupil in 2020-2021.
Currently, there is an arbitrary $6,010 per student that districts are supposed to receive, but that amount is substantially reduced when a district’s perceived wealth based on property values and other factors are figured in.
Chardon City School District, for example, now gets about $1,677 in state money per student annually. Under the proposed Fair School Funding Plan simulation, Chardon could get about $1,784 per child during the 2019 school year and $2,006 in 2021.
Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District would see no change from its current annual $913 per student state funding.
The simulation shows Kenston receiving $1,240 per pupil in fiscal years 2019-2021 compared to the $1,259 per pupil it now gets. Solon now gets $658 per student and under the phased-in formula would get $1,233 per student for the 2020-21 academic year. Orange now gets $548 and by 2020-21 would get $779 per student.
The committee needs to perfect the formula and explain it to the General Assembly, whose members are working on the biennial budget that must be approved by June 30.
The Fair School Funding Plan is a step in the right direction, but we believe more calculations are in order to make the formula work for all public schools across Ohio, whether they are urban, suburban or rural.