Ohio school funding revamp bill put off for another year

Hallways at Stebbins high school are less crowded because the students are on a rotating daily schedule. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
Hallways at Stebbins high school are less crowded because the students are on a rotating daily schedule. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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A comprehensive, bipartisan, multi-year effort to revamp Ohio’s K-12 school funding system will not pass the Ohio legislature this year, according to Senate officials.

That raises questions about whether the newly seated legislature in 2021 will pass the bill, amend it, or move in another direction. Whichever direction they go, they’ll be doing it at the same time as the biennial state budget process determines how schools will be funded for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.

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House Bill 305 passed the Ohio House overwhelmingly last week, but the Senate will not vote on either that bill, or its own companion bill, Senate Bill 376, according to Senate Republican caucus press secretary John Fortney.

Senate Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner last week called the new school funding plans in 305 and 376 “light years better” than Ohio’s existing system.

The bills carefully calculated a “base cost” to educate students, used a mix of communities’ property wealth and income wealth to solve long-running constitutionality issues and suggested an eventual $2 billion per year increase in state funding for K-12 schools.

Last week, some senators said there may not be time to hold enough hearings on the bill before the end of the year. The Senate Finance Committee held hearings on SB 376 on Nov. 18 and Dec. 1, but when the committee met Tuesday, the group held hearings on four other bills instead.

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Sen. Matt Dolan, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told Ohio Public Radio on Wednesday that the bill is a “great framework” and said the many studies embedded in the school funding plan should go forward to be used in crafting next year’s budget.

But he cited safety concerns in holding more hearings at a time when the statehouse has seen multiple recent COVID-19 cases. The full Senate did meet Wednesday, with some Senators wearing masks and others not.

“As I said to people, it’s more important that this thing passes on July 1 than Jan. 1,” Dolan told Ohio Public Radio, referring to Ohio’s budget’s deadline of July 1.

Several local school districts expressed support for the revamped school funding system. On Monday, Trotwood schools Superintendent Reva Cosby praised the plan for its focus on what students need to ensure a high-quality education.

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“This bill represents a renewed effort to prioritize education in Ohio and Ohio’s children,” Cosby said.

State Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, said school funding is an “extremely important issue” so it’s important that legislators get it right.

“I believe these continued studies will bring clarity to the issue,” Huffman said. “I look forward to continuing to work on this issue during the budget process next year.”

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