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Education Leaders Question Governor's School Funding Proposal

A lot of education leaders in Ohio say they're scratching their heads over Governor Kasich’s proposed school funding formula. About half of the public school districts in Ohio are losing funding, including some districts considered to be poorer districts, while some others thought to be higher wealth are getting more money. Governor Kasich says the goal of his education plan is to direct state dollars to schools that have the least ability to raise money locally. But some education leaders are questioning why some rural and suburban school districts would get fewer dollars under the Governor’s proposal while some other districts that are thought to be wealthy would see increases. Kasich says one big reason is that his formula factors growth into the funding formula. And he uses one of the fastest growing school districts in Ohio and the country, the Olentangy School District in Central Ohio, to make his point. “When you take a look at Olentangy, you see three factors. One, their property values are not as high what people think. Number two, their income levels are not as high as what people think. And number three, their school system is exploding with the total number of kids. So under this formula, Olentangy is going to get more.

Now, I hope you also understand that there are school districts that lose students and we keep sending them money even though they have fewer students.

The Superintendent of the Olentangy Schools, Wade Lucas, says his district is adding roughly 750 to 800 students a year. And he’s glad the Governor’s proposal has taken that into consideration in this new proposal because it is what he wants to see. “We would be extremely appreciative of something in there dealing with growth. We would be extremely appreciative of something in there minimum funding for every student, whether they are public or private.” That last point about equity between public and private schools is important to Lucas. He says the way funding has been in the past, his district has to pay private operators more than the district gets from the state for its own students. He says in Olentangy’s case, non-public chartered schools in Ohio have received twice the amount of per-pupil state funding from Olentangy. He says the non-public charter schools have been rewarded for growth but Olentangy is penalized because no matter how many new students enroll in the district, the state does not increase funding to Olentangy on a per pupil basis. The net effect, Lucas says, is that Olentangy is forced to pay non-public schools not just what it gets from the state but also additional money coming from local levies. Kasich’s new proposal would allow local school districts to put levies on the ballot that would specifically fund both its own district and non-public school entities. Darold Johnson, the Director of Legislation and Political Action for the Ohio Federation of Teachers, is concerned this proposal might shift taxes when it comes to education funding…especially in those districts that are losing money under the plan.

“This proposal could shift more of a burden to local homeowners. And then so it would run counter to the previous DeRolph decision of reducing the over-reliance of property taxes. So then when you look at income of districts and reduce their state share, you are then putting more of a burden on local homeowners.

The Director of the Ohio School Boards Association, Damon Asbury, says it’s important to remember that the Governor’s proposal is a starting point. The Ohio legislature will likely make changes to it. That being said, Asbury says the goal of the Governor’s proposal makes sense. “The concepts that the Governor is proposing make sense to most of us that state dollars need to be directed to those districts that have the lowest capacity to generate revenues locally.

The problem is that apparently that formula that is in place is not necessarily leading to that.

Indeed, Olentangy Superintendent Lucas says he thinks it’s likely lawmakers will tinker with the Governor’s formula. But he says he hopes they focus on making changes that make the formula fairer for rapidly growing districts like his.