Ohio schools still sticking point as House, Senate head to final budget stages

The Ohio House of Representatives rejected the Senate’s budget changes Thursday, meaning a conference committee will have three weeks to reconcile the two chambers’ versions of the two-year spending bill.

School funding arguments are front and center in that debate.

The House passed its bipartisan school funding model (called the Fair School Funding Plan) twice, by an 84-8 vote in December and 70-27 as part of its budget bill in April. The plan was the result of three years of research into all types of school expenses, to determine a “base cost” to educate students.

ExploreSenate has own school plan; more money for private vouchers

The Senate introduced its own formula last week, suggesting the House proposal would cause major cost increases in future years. The Senate plan also increases eligibility for state-paid private-school vouchers, and would increase the value of those vouchers.

The Senate passed its budget bill Wednesday on a 25-8 party-line vote. Democrats offered several amendments (all rejected), including one from Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), that would have restored the House’s school funding language. Fedor said Ohio still has not changed its school funding system sufficiently since it was ruled unconstitutional over 20 years ago.

“Ohio’s current funding system creates massive educational inequities for children, especially those from low-income households,” Fedor said on the Senate floor. “The Fair School Funding Plan starts with the needs of the students. … You say the House plan is too expensive. Yet you believe we can afford $1.3 billion in tax cuts that would primarily benefit top earners in the state.”

Republican Sen. Louis Blessing, R-Cincinnati argued that the Senate’s changes are logical because they fit into Ohio’s existing school funding formula. That system has been criticized by most school funding analysts, because its list of caps and guarantees means most schools don’t actually receive the amount of funding the formula calls for.

Blessing said the Senate plan adjusts some of those caps. He also said the Senate plan should get support because it gives schools more money.

ExploreSee how much your school would get under House plan

“We have spent $232.6 million more in formula aid than the House-passed version of the budget bill,” he said. “Over half of the districts in the state see more foundation aid from the Senate plan in both years of the biennium.”

But both Republicans and Democrats in the House voted against the Senate’s budget amendments Thursday, with the tally coming in at 85-7-7. The seven votes siding with the Senate were all Republicans — Tom Brinkman, Sarah Fowler, Kris Jordan, Riordan McClain, Bill Dean (Xenia), Jennifer Gross (West Chester) and Jena Powell (Arcanum).

“There are hundreds of competing and complementary ideas from both chambers that seek to achieve our common goal — a balanced budget that invests in Ohio’s priorities and its future, including such important issues as health care, school funding, tax relief, broadband funding, child care and more,” said veteran Rep. Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton), in opposing the Senate version.

Now a conference committee — three members of the Senate and three members of the House — will work to negotiate a compromise, which then must be approved by the full House and Senate.

School/child provisions

The Senate amendment package that was added to the budget bill this week also would:

** Allow school districts to offer an online learning model each school year — an issue that gained momentum during the COVID pandemic;

** Use $125 million in federal funding to create “after-school child enrichment educational savings accounts” for students whose family income is below 300% of the federal poverty level (300% equals $78,600 for a family of four);

ExploreChild care advocates say budget hurts quality for kids

** Remove the “computer science education mandate” that was previously in the bill, while still retaining the requirement that the state develop a plan for computer science education;

** Use $50 million in federal grants next year to reduce co-pays for publicly funded child care, and specify that pandemic “hero pay” for child care workers would not be taken away. However the amendment did not reverse the Senate’s plan to eliminate Ohio’s Step Up to Quality child care standards.

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