School advocates say Ohio Senate funding plan relies on old data

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Rep. Scott Oelslager explains House Republicans’ opposition to the Senate's budget changes.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Three major education groups, including the Ohio School Boards Association, backed a report this week that criticizes the Ohio Senate’s school funding plan for using out-of-date information.

The report, from veteran school funding analyst Howard Fleeter and the Ohio Education Policy Institute, says that the Senate’s data for property valuations, income levels and student enrollment is several years behind in some spots.

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“By using data that is now three bienniums old, the Senate’s school funding proposal will create significant disruptions and likely be much more costly in the 2024-25 biennium when property values, income and enrollment are updated,” Fleeter said in his report.

Ohio’s House and Senate passed competing school funding plans this spring as part of their two-year budget bills. Over the next two weeks, a conference committee will attempt to reconcile the differences so the two chambers can finalize a state budget.

The conference committee includes three senators (Democrat Vernon Sykes, plus Republicans Matt Dolan and Theresa Gavarone) as well as three representatives (Democrat Erica Crawley, plus Republicans Scott Oelslager and Dayton’s Phil Plummer).

Senate Republicans had criticized the House’s bipartisan Fair School Funding Plan last month, saying it used out-of-date teacher salaries. Senators argued that the discrepancy would mean the House plan would end up costing more than the $1.99 billion increase over six years that supporters had forecast.

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But Fleeter said the Senate formula relies in part on property values from 2014-16 and income data from 2013-15 despite the fact that data four years more recent is available. Fleeter also points out that the Senate is still using 2017 student enrollment counts in their formula.

The Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators and Ohio Association of School Business Officials supported Fleeter’s report.

Senate Republican spokesman John Fortney called those education groups “special interests” in criticizing their position.

“The Senate’s school funding plan starts with the professional who stands at the front of the class. That’s the teacher,” Fortney said. “It is not surprising special-interest groups have just one special interest in mind. They’re only interested in more money.”

But both of Ohio’s teachers unions have also criticized the Senate funding plan, demanding that legislators pass the Fair School Funding Plan, which was led in part by current Republican Speaker of the House Bob Cupp, with three years of stakeholder input.

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Fortney said the Senate plan used the numbers it did because that data was the basis of the most recent school funding formula, the one for Fiscal Year 2019. He said the new Senate formula is “reliable to districts, sustainable long term, and accountable to taxpayers.”

Fleeter was critical both of Fortney’s comments and the Senate plan’s data.

“Their model underfunds education in the upcoming biennium and will create a train wreck in the 2024-25 biennium, when they will have to update data that is over 10 years old,” Fleeter said.

Senate Republicans say they arrived at their $6,110 base cost per student via a formula that allocates $3,622 per student for teacher compensation. Their formula then says it uses that $3,622 figure as a multiplier to calculate some unrelated costs such as buildings/operations and district administration.

Fleeter said the teacher compensation cost that the Senate plan is built on also uses teacher salary numbers that are at least a year out of date.

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