Ohio lawmakers are currently split between a reasonable solution to funding Ohio schools and a partisan one.
Whether Ohio can yet meet the constitutional test of providing a “thorough and efficient” system of education again looks unsure — after 24 years.
As the June 30 deadline approaches for passing Ohio’s two-year state budget, key differences remain between how the House and Senate would fund K-12 education. Supporters of public schools again may feel disappointment; the threat of ever-higher local property taxes may remain as the state fails to lift the burden.
The House budget includes a $2 billion plan that rewrites the school funding formula based on sound policy. The Senate plan offers a one-size-fits all per-student base cost and beefs up funding for school vouchers.
In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court found fault with the state’s formula for funding public schools. Since then, lawmakers have failed to comply with multiple court rulings ordering systemic changes to ensure adequacy and equity in funding.
Hopes were high last year that this failing would be resolved. In December, a bipartisan majority of the House approved a new funding formula drawn after years of study by state Reps. Robert Cupp, a Lima Republican, and John Patterson, a Jefferson Democrat. Cupp is now speaker of the House.
The Senate killed off this opportunity to solve funding woes and wrapped it into the current budgeting process.
Senate President Matt Huffman recently said he wants to solve the funding problem. We hope that’s true, but the House and Senate look far apart.
The Senate offers a statewide base cost of $6,110 per pupil, while the House created a localized formula ranging from $7,000 to $8,000.
The House and the Senate differ in their approaches to school vouchers, as well. The Senate plan generously increases spending on school vouchers. EdChoice scholarship amounts would rise to $5,500 for K-8 and $7,500 for high school students.
Redirecting dollars from public schools to private schools, while popular with Ohio Republican leaders, continues to be a disturbing use of public funds. In a Cincinnati Enquirer analysis of test scores, private school students mostly do worse than those in neighboring public districts.
As legislators hammer out the state budget, fairness for Ohio students should be a priority.
We agree with Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, that a single statewide base cost doesn’t take into account the diversity of districts across Ohio. The House’s calculation for state and local shares, as opposed to the Senate formula, was derived after speaking with affected districts.
The Senate has been dismissive of the process, however, likening it to “asking the car salesman how much he thinks you should pay,” in Huffman’s words.
Lawmakers have two weeks to resolve their differences and solve one of Ohio’s most difficult problems.
Rep. Patterson left the House because of term limits with this important work unfulfilled. Let’s hope senators will meet representatives part way and pass a bill that satisfies taxpayers and school communities around the state.
— Akron Beacon Journal, June 13