COLUMBUS, Ohio — A major revamp of Ohio’s school funding system, years in the making, has cleared another hurdle.
House Bill 305 passed 84-8 in the Ohio House Thursday. The measure now heads to the Ohio Senate where the clock continues ticking.
With the General Assembly’s two-year session set to expire at the end of the year, any bill that hasn’t passed dies.
The bill lays out what proponents call an equitable plan for funding all of Ohio’s 610 school districts for the first time since the Ohio Supreme in 1997 deemed Ohio’s funding system unconstitutional.
Ohio schools receive funding from property taxes, the state and federal governments, and the Ohio Lottery.
The current scheme’s reliance on property taxes benefits wealthier districts while the needs of poorer districts, and those with English-language learners and special needs students, largely go unmet, proponents say.
The proposed plan is a complex set of equations that relies on Ohio data and expertise to calculate the actual costs of educating students based on the needs of their individual populations and school districts, said Akron Public Schools CFO Ryan Pendleton.
“It really is righting the wrongs of the past few decades,” Pendleton said. “This bill acknowledges that we owe it to the citizens to study some of the most challenging issues facing K-12 schooling.”
Three years ago, Pendleton joined with the bill’s sponsors, Reps. Bob Cupp, a Republican from Lima, and John Patterson, a Democrat from Ashtabula County, and a statewide group of school officials and lawmaker, in championing a more equitable school funding formula.
“Ohioans struggle with the effects of school funding as inequities continue to exist between school districts year after year,” Pendleton told the House Finance Committee during testimony this week. “This lack of a viable funding model wreaks havoc on our school systems. Residents have grown weary of hearing about the need for levies, and businesses and families can’t comprehend how school funding works.”
Arguments against the proposal generally question how the $2 billion-a-year plan would be funded.
The plan would be phased in over six years, beginning in 2022, Pendleton said, and would require repurposing funds from Gov. Mike DeWine’s Health & Wellness fund and the state’s Rainy Day Fund. If primary and secondary finding were increased year-over-year during those six years, the total amount needed would be possible to reach, he said.
During testimony, economist Howard Fleeter, a research consultant for the Ohio Education Policy Institute, opened his comments, saying the new plan complies with the edicts of the Supreme Court decision (DeRolph v. State of Ohio) that determined Ohio’s funding plan unconstitutional.
Fleeter also laid out a detailed explanation of the complex funding plan for legislators, explaining why claims by some senators that the plan would cost much more, up to $4 billion per year, than the estimates it is based on are unfounded.
“The Fair School Funding Plan, like any other model for adequate funding, is appropriately based on research, which leads to a calculation of how much it costs to transport and adequately educate a typical student, as well as how much it costs to transport and adequately educate students with additional educational needs,” Fleeter said.
To make the calculation equitable for all school districts, the plan’s funding components begin the moment students are picked up for school each morning and end when they log off computers that evening, Pendleton said.
“Everything educationally that occurs between those two events has been considered,” he said.
Educators from across Ohio expressed to the legislators the changes included in the new plan they say would have a major impact on their districts:
- The method for determining a school district’s funding share under the proposed plan would be applied evenly across the districts. “District capacity” would be calculated with 60 percent weight on property taxes and 40 percent on resident income, and then multiplied by a percentage, or charge off, said Superintendent Michael Hanlon of Chardon Local Schools in Geauga County, and Jared Bunting, CFO of Trimble Local Schools in Athens County. The previous funding formula used “guarantees,” which paid more state aid than the formula called for to 350 districts, leaving 140 districts to receive less than the formula called for.
- The plan would include funding, for the first time, for special needs students with disabilities, and also fund “catastrophic special educations situations,” Jenni Logan, CFO of Lakota Schools in Butler County, told the committee during testimony.
- With recent major studies finding school funding “woefully low” for economically disadvantaged students, Claudia Zaler, CFO of Waverly Schools in Pike County, told legislators the plan increases funding for this population, while providing every 4-year-old with at least one year of quality preschool.
- Career tech centers would also be part of the plan, adjusting for lower teacher-pupil ratios and accommodating the hands-on instruction that’s characteristic of these facilities, Ashtabula County educators Jerry Brockway and Carrie Herringshaw told the committee.
- Bringing internet services to districts, distributing it in buildings and classrooms and providing a Chromebook or equivalent for every student in first through 12th grades is also included, according to Wooster City Schools Superintendent Michael Tefs in Wayne County and Cajon Keeton, CFO at Benton-Carroll-Salem Schools in Ottowa County.
- With many Ohio students relying on bus transport, the plan includes $45 million for an annual bus purchase program for the first time in more than a decade, as well as funding for nontraditional riders and a change in the way special education transportation money is calculated, said Superintendent Dalton Summers, of River View Local in Coshocton County, and Kevin Lillie, CFO of Geneva Area Schools in Ashtabula County.
To expedite the hearing process, the Senate introduced in November a companion bill to HB 305, Senate Bill 376, the Fair School Funding Plan. Proponents hope the bill can move through Senate committees to a floor hearing before the General Assembly convenes Dec. 31, when the effort would have to start all over.