Local schools face uncertainty over House, Senate proposals for funding

State’s budget negotiations this week could determine schools’ need for additional levies or cuts.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Stark variations in the House and Senate public school funding proposals will be at the forefront of conference committee deliberations this week as Ohio lawmakers hope to wrap up the state’s two-year operating budget before the deadline Friday.

Both proposals would increase overall K-12 state funding, compared to the 2022-23 school year. But the Senate’s tweak to the state’s current funding formula resulted in the chamber proposing $541.4 million less to public schools over the biennium compared to the House, according to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission.

How much the state pays local school districts directly impacts schools’ budgets. If a school district ends up with less state money than anticipated, the district may ask voters for a school tax levy, or they may need to make cuts.

Howard Fleeter, an economist and research consultant with the Ohio Education Policy Institute, said the Senate achieved most of its proposed savings by adjusting the formula to no longer consider the median income in Ohio’s school districts.

“The Senate budget sends $541 million less to school districts in the 24-25 biennium than the House budget, and the primary reason for that is because of what they did to the state and local share calculation,” Fleeter said in an interview with this news organization. “They got rid of the median, which is serving to make most districts look more wealthy, which increases the local share, which decreases the state share, which saves the state money.”

Ohio Senate Education Committee Chair Andrew Brenner, of suburban Columbus, said the new formula also no longer guarantees funding for kids who left the school district.

“We kind of took from both ends of it to try to get the formula fully on track to be fully funded,” Brenner said.

Brenner said he thinks this new formula is fairer. He noted the districts most likely to lose money are wealthy suburban districts and those least likely to lose money are in rural parts of Ohio.

If adopted, the Senate’s adjustment would mark the first change to the state’s recently crafted school funding formula, a years-in-the-making bipartisan plan to more fairly fund schools. The formula, known as the Cupp-Patterson plan or the Fair School Funding Plan, aimed to strike a constitutional balance between local and state funding in order to support quality education, as directed by a 1997 Ohio Supreme Court ruling.

Fleeter, who has worked on school funding formulas in Ohio for decades, said the Senate’s tweak would lower the state’s share of public education costs to around the level it was at back in the late 1990s. “The Senate is kind of forwarding into the past,” Fleeter said.

The Senate’s adjustment would see over 90% of the state’s 613 public school districts receive less funding than they would have received under the House’s proposal, Fleeter said. A few local districts would receive more money under the Senate plan, including Mad River and Northridge schools, both of which are lower-income districts, according to state data.

Locally, a handful of districts face uncertainty as a result of the two contrasting funding proposals, though none would endure funding cuts compared to this year.

Over the biennium, $1.8 million hangs in the balance for Vandalia-Butler schools (15% difference between the two proposals); $4.5 million hangs in the balance for Kettering schools (8.1% difference); $1.7 million hangs in the balance for Ross Local schools (7.7% difference); $1.4 million hangs in the balance for Kings Local schools (7.1% difference) and $850,000 hangs in the balance for Clark Shawnee schools (6.8% difference).

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

“We are concerned that instead of fully funding the Fair School Funding Plan, the proposed legislation appears to focus more on local capacity, which has the potential to unfairly shift the funding burden back on local taxpayers,” said Tom Faulkner, treasurer for Clark Shawnee Local schools.

That concern was echoed by Rep. Tracy Richardson, R-Marysville, who was tasked with the House’s side of the school funding formula.

“When you adjust the formula, you’re basically shifting the taxpayer burden from the state to the local districts, to the community. That’s not helping taxpayers,” she said.

In Butler County, Talawanda City school district has long faced difficulties relying on state funding due to its high-value farmland. Like a number of school districts in the state, Talawanda faces considerable cuts after a local levy recently failed. District Superintendent Ed Theroux said neither the House or Senate proposal would save them from making cuts.

“With either version, it’s not great for Talawanda,” Theroux said. “Of course, if we had to go with one, we would go with the House version.”

Talawanda receives 15.8% of its funding from the school funding formula and has about $1 million hanging in the balance over the biennium.

Richardson said she wanted to see the Fair School Funding Plan stay intact for the full six-year phase.

“We want to fully phase this thing without altering it, because once you start tweaking it here, then someone wants to tweak it there, then all of a sudden, you’ve completely unraveled three decades worth of (work),” Richardson said.

In a press release, she formally requested that the conference committee fully adopt the House’s funding proposals.

Senate leadership, including Finance Chair and U.S. Senate candidate Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, has defended its funding formula, highlighting additional investments its funding formula would make to local schools compared to past budgets.

Fleeter told this news organization that, largely, the funding increases proposed in the Senate budget merely kept up with increasing costs for teachers, resources, and the already-planned funding escalation required to fully phase in the Fair School Funding Plan.

“Yes, they’re putting more money into the formula, but they need to be putting more money into the formula,” Fleeter said, noting his belief that public schools in Ohio have been underfunded for a decade. “When you’re digging a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging; the second thing you need to do is fill the hole. We’re still filling the hole that was created from what they did over a 10-year period.”

Below is a searchable database that allows readers to see what specific local school districts have to gain or lose in the the House and Senate funding proposals.