Landmark school funding bill back on track

Three months after stalling in the state Senate, a bill to reform Ohio’s K-12 school funding system is back in legislative hearings in hopes that it will be approved by June when the state’s two-year budget will be passed.

The bill, referred to for the past two years as the Fair School Funding Plan, aims to solve problems that have lingered for 20-plus years since the state funding formula was ruled unconstitutional.

The plan starts with a new calculation of the “base cost” it takes to educate a student, then uses a mix of communities’ property wealth and income wealth to determine local funding. If fully funded after a multi-year phase-in, the plan would call for a $2 billion per year increase in state funding for K-12 schools.

The plan, House Bill 1, has had multiple hearings before the House Finance Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education in the past two weeks. Agencies representing Ohio’s school boards, superintendents, school treasurers and teachers have already testified in support of the plan.

Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, representing teachers, said this spring is an urgent time in education and called HB 1 “the best hope for structural change” in school funding.

Kevin Miller, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, testified to the House Finance Subcommittee that even when Ohio had a school funding formula in past years, it was a patchwork system “with no objective analysis of what it costs to educate these students.”

“The Fair School Funding Plan provides a rational, transparent approach for determining both the cost of educating students and how the funding of education is shared between the state and local taxpayers,” Miller said.

Other groups, some representing charter schools and business groups, have expressed mixed feelings. Lisa Gray, president of the Ohio Excels business/education group, told legislators that several pieces of the formula are good, but the cost of some parts of the plan are either unknown or subject to rapid inflation that the state may not be able to afford.

Multiple charter school officials testified that the bill may increase their funding slightly, but that their funding gap with district schools would get even bigger. Dave Taylor, superintendent of the DECA charter schools in Dayton, said the bill’s elimination of the Quality Community School Support program, for high-achieving charter schools, would be especially painful.

“This bill, which appears to be the comprehensive culmination of years of effort to provide K-12 schools with the resources they need, fails to put children who attend community schools on equal footing with those who attend traditional schools,” Taylor told legislators.

In December, the Fair School Funding Plan passed unanimously in the Ohio House. Rep. Bob Cupp, now Speaker of the House, was one of the two legislators who originally launched the plan.

But several state senators said there needs to be more study on the costs of the plan, especially given financial pressures facing the state in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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