Ohio schools should not expect any signifcant changes in their state funding for at least another year.
Schools faced major state funding cuts for the current and next school year under a funding model Ohio lawmakers enacted in June. That funding model was supposed to be temporary. But on Tuesday House Republicans announced that they plan to hold a year of hearings on the topic.
That means that we likely won’t have a new way to distribute state dollars among public schools until at least January 2013. And the temporary funding formula will stay in place for the 2012-13 school year.
State Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster and chair of the House Finance Committee, will chair the hearings. For the past two biennial state budgets, school districts have received their state funding under ostensibly “temporary” funding formulas. [Note: See clarification on this below.] Still, Amstutz said there is some urgency for the legislature to take action and fix how the state of Ohio funds public education.
“I think we have a mandate that we’ve set for ourselves to take some further action. We also have a responsibility to act in a way that gives interested parties an opportunity to participate. I don’t think we want to do something in too rapid a fashion or we’ll lose proper process,” Amstutz said.
Ohio’s constitution dictates that public schools must be adequately and equitably funded. But the state has spent the better part of the last 20 years arguing about what that means. The Ohio Supreme Court has said three times that the state’s school funding system is unconstitutional. And one other time, it gave the system only a conditional endorsement.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration developed a school funding formula called the Ohio Evidence-Based Model. But it was never implemented. And in the current budget cycle, that model was eliminated but not replaced, Ohio Education Association consultant Russ Harris told the Associated Press:
“There is no school funding formula in Ohio right now. It’s not evidence-based, it’s not per-pupil based, it’s nothing-based,” he said. “Basically they’re taking the same amount of money as was allotted to schools in 1999 and extending it across all the districts.”
Early in his term, Gov. John Kasich had said that he planned to move quickly — at least for Columbus — in developing a new school funding model. His advisors held meetings with various groups to discuss the new model. They said a draft would be released before Halloween 2011. (That would have been just before voters repealed collective bargaining law Senate Bill 5.)
In late 2011, the governor’s office backed away from that timeline — and from any timeline for its school funding proposal. “We’ll be prepared to share some ideas with folks once we have it right,” Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols said Tuesday.
A slower timeline might actually be a good thing, Amstutz said.
“I think they’ve discovered that this is not something they can move on as quickly as they had hoped,” he said.
House Republicans haven’t publicly said what they expect the new funding formula to look like. But Amstutz shared one prediction: It’s not going to make everybody happy.
“The question that I think we need to ask is, ‘Will a preponderance of the interested parties and the citizens of Ohio feel that we’ve achieved something that will be good for our state going forward?’ if we have that then I think we’ve succeeded in our objectives,” he said. “But we will not find everybody happy at the end of our process. I can predict that even without knowing what we’re going to recommend or try to do.”
Note: Here’s a clarification in response to a question about what we called the “temporary” nature of the school funding formula used in the 2009 biennial budget.
The 2009 budget distributed state money to schools through a formula called the Evidence-Based Model. That formula was supposed to remain in place permanently. However, for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, that formula was not fully implemented. School districts did not receive the full amount called for under the formula, and did not necessarily have to spend it in the ways that the formula would have required them to do so if fully implemented.