Ohio Senate to launch own school funding plan today

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, favors direct funding of charters schools and voucher programs, but opposes some other pieces of the House's Fair School Funding Plan.
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, favors direct funding of charters schools and voucher programs, but opposes some other pieces of the House's Fair School Funding Plan.

Republicans in the Ohio Senate will introduce a substitute school funding plan today, addressing what they say are problems with the House-passed version, and setting up a one-month sprint to get a funding system approved by the end of the state budget process.

Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said he’ll wait until today to reveal most specific details of the plan. But he said direct funding of charter schools and private-school vouchers (rather than having those funds pass through school districts first) is one change in the House plan that the Senate agrees with.

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“I think the principal problem with the House’s plan so far is that about four or five years out, we have this tremendous jump in cost,” Huffman said. “There’s a couple billion dollars with no talk about how to fund that, so it’s either tax increases or cutting other state programs, from Medicaid to all the other things we fund.”

In a three-year process, House Speaker Bob Cupp and former state Rep. John Patterson created the Fair School Funding Plan that the House already approved. It calculates the cost of teachers, busing, special education and other factors to determine a “base cost” to educate students. It uses that figure to calculate state funding for each school district.

Patterson has said that over a six-year phase-in, the plan would increase state funding for schools by $1.99 billion, calling that number not out of line with historical increases. Senate leadership has suggested that could be a significant underestimate. Huffman argued this week that the financial estimates don’t take into account school employee pay raises from local contract negotiations.

The House version of the plan estimates small, gradual state funding increases for most Dayton-area districts, with some outliers (Kettering, Bethel, Vandalia-Butler and a few others) seeing 10-15% increases this fall.

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“When the plan is rolled out side by side, you’ll see why will the House plan in the long term is not sustainable,” Huffman said. “This is a system based on asking the people who are getting paid what they think the cost would be, rather than considering revenue and other sources of information.”

Jennifer Hogue, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said few details about the Senate plan have leaked out. She said she wouldn’t be surprised if the Senate pushes for an increase in funding and eligibility for charter schools and voucher programs.

“Some think they’ll go back to a building blocks formula that we had a few iterations ago,” Hogue said. “Some think we’ll stick with the formula that’s on the books now (from fiscal year 2019), with some tweaks. It’s anybody’s guess.”

One of the selling point of the Fair School Funding Plan is wide agreement that it would fix long-standing constitutionality problems with Ohio’s school funding model. But Hiwot Abraha, treasurer for Dayton Public Schools, said she’s heard the same talk as Hogue about funding basically staying the same as the patched 2019 model for now.

State report card

Hogue said there’s significant interest in passing a state report card reform bill, but she’s not sure legislators will be able to reach agreement in June.

“I think in the House, Reps. Jones and Robinson are looking to try to hold an interested party session next week to get everybody together and see if we can’t hash something out and get some sort of compromise done,” Hogue said.

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OSBA supports the House’s version, which says there should be no overall grade or rating for each school.

“I think the main sticking point tends to be the overall summative rating,” Hogue said. “We believe there should not be a summative rating, so that we drive people’s attention toward the individual components [achievement, progress, graduation, etc.]. Let those components tell the story.”

Other school bills

Hogue said a bill aimed at revising the makeup of the state school board might pass the House, but likely will stall in the Senate, which she said is unlikely to take away the governor’s appointment powers.

Meanwhile, the latest of multiple bills to change state takeover of struggling schools via Academic Distress Commissions could get folded into the state budget bill.

Huffman said as far as schools go, he’s focused on the funding bill, and wouldn’t comment on legislation to change the report card system or other education law.

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