Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants to increase state education spending by $1.2 billion over the next two years, but the proposed increase falls short of replacing education funding cut in the last state budget.
Kasich is also calling for expanding vouchers to lower-income families throughout the state.
Like other governors, Kasich cut education spending in 2011 in the face of the national recession. Now, as state revenues rebound, Kasich joins other governors including Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Pennsylvannia Gov. Tom Corbett in making up for those cuts.
“No school district will receive less money than last year,” Kasich told superintendents Thursday.
Many superintendents, braced for another round of cuts, were relieved at the broad details of Kasich’s plan. But the governor says his office will not release details about how individual school districts will fare under his proposal until the middle of next week.
The New Plan
Kasich School Funding Plan: The Basics
- Additional $1.2 billion for schools over next two years; $1.6 billion cut for schools in past two years.
- Funding model attempts to “equalize” differences among high-property wealth and low-property wealth school districts and also takes into account residents’ income levels.
- Continued reliance on local property tax levies.
- Expansion of publicly funded private school vouchers for kindergartners and first graders in families making less than $46,100 for a family of four in any school district in Ohio.
- Changes to rules relating to student:teacher ratios and length of the school year.
- Funding for charter school facilities.
For the past two years, Ohio has instead calculated how much money schools receive by basically taking the total amount they received under the Strickland administration and cutting it proportionally.
Kasich’s plan changes that and attempts to equalize the differences among rich and poor school districts.
Under Kasich’s proposal, each district that levies 20 mills in property taxes (20 dollars for every $1,000 of assessed property value) would have the same amount of money to spend as a district with a $250,000 per pupil property tax base.
That $250,000-per pupil property tax base represents the position of some of the richest school distircts in Ohio: Just 4 percent of districts are wealthier.
The state would make up the difference between what a local district raises at a 20-mill tax rate and what a $250,000 per-pupil property-tax base district could raise.
On top of that, districts will receive additional funding based on how many special education, low-income and gifted students they enroll. And, for the first time, Ohio will provide additional funding for schools to educate students who are still learning English.
It’s a model similar to ones Ohio has tried before, in the 1950s and 70s, said Cuyahoga Heights school district Superintendent Ed Holland. Those models were abandoned after they became too expensive, Holland said.
Kasich said that Ohio’s economic recovery–and a healthy balance in the state’s General Revenue fund–means that his plan would be “fully funded.” Kasich also said he does not want to draw on the state’s $1-billion rainy day account to fund education.
Guarantees and Levies
But the governor’s plan doesn’t touch the rules that guarantee hundreds of Ohio school districts a minimum amount of funding, no matter how many students they enroll.
–Revere school district Superintendent/Buckeye Association of School Administrators President Randy Boroff
Those guarantees amount to hundreds of millions of dollars “going to places that it shouldn’t go,” Kasich education advisor Dick Ross said. The governor hopes to wean schools off those guarantees, but doesn’t think schools are prepared to lose those funds just yet, Ross said.
And Kasich’s plan is unlikely to reduce local reliance on property taxes and school levies, some superintendents said.
“We still are going to be dependent on the taxpayers passing levies to increase our revenue on a regular basis,” said Revere school district Superintendent Randy Boroff. Boroff is also president of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.
However, the governor’s plan would eliminate state rules among things like class sizes and the number of days schools must be in session. That could free up some money to be spent more efficiently, allowing districts to go longer between levy requests, Reynoldsburg school district Superintenent Stephen Dackin said.
Kasich’s plan also includes a dramatic expansion of Ohio’s voucher programs. Vouchers are publicly funded scholarships for private schools.
Currently, vouchers are only available for children attending low-performing schools and for children with special needs.
Kasich wants to allow kindergarteners and first-graders throughout Ohio — no matter the performance of their local schools — to be eligible for vouchers as long as their family makes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s about $46,100 for a family of four.
Kasich declined to say whether the vouchers could be extended to children in other grades.
“What you have in the plan is what you have,” he told reporters in response to questions about plans for future expansion.
Voucher use in Ohio has more than tripled over the past ten years as legislators have extended vouchers from a pilot program initially limited to the Cleveland school district to other areas and students.
If enacted, Kasich’s plan is likely to lead to pressure to make older students and possibly wealthier families eligible for vouchers too, said Bill Phillis, Executive Director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding.
“This voucher scheme opens the door to a complete unraveling of the public school system,” Phillis said.
Kasich’s plan also includes:
- State funding of $100 per pupil for charter school facilities. Currently, charter schools do not receive state funding for buildings.
- A $300 million grant program called the Straight-A Fund that would provide one-time grants for districts trying “new strategies” for improving student learning and operating more efficiently.
- Elimination of state funding for educational service centers, regional organizations that contract with school districts to provide special education, training and other services. Instead, ESCs would be funded only through contracts with school districts.
- Additional funding for kindergarten and early childhood education.
- Revisions to state laws about teacher:student ratios and the number of days in the school year.