Many superintendents were worried Governor John Kasich’s budget would include another round of cuts to schools.
“Our biggest fear as superintendents is that we were going to hear about cuts in the budget and that we’re going to have to depend more on levies,” says Randy Boroff. He runs the Revere Local School District, and he’s the president of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.
Instead, the governor says his plan spends an additional $1.2 billion on education over the next two years.
But what does that mean for each individual district?
What’s in the Plan
The additional money includes a $300 million one-time competitive grant, known as the straight-A fund. A new voucher program for low-income kids would be launched and charter schools would get a per-pupil allotment to pay for building costs. Plus, schools would get extra funding for certain students.
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 children in additional low-performing schools and for students in families making less than $46,100 for a family of four in any school district in Ohio.
- Changes to rules about student:teacher ratios and length of the school year.
- Funding for charter school facilities.
- $300-million competitive grant program for districts trying “new strategies” for improving student learning and operational efficiency.
“If you have disabled students you’re going to get help,” Kasich told superintendents at a presentation of his plan last week. “If you have gifted students you’re going to get help.”
But next is where the plan raises eyebrows: It makes an effort to equalize school funding across the state.
Kasich pulls no punches when he states what school districts face.
“This is not like some difficult thing to figure out,” he says. “If you’re poor, you’re going to get more. If you’re richer, you’re going to get less.”
Kasich’s plan would mandate every district spend a minimum amount on their schools – a level above what most districts spend now.
The Challenge of Ohio School Funding
The problem is districts in poor areas can’t raise as much property tax money as districts in rich areas. Passing a levy in a place where the average property value is $50,000 yields a lot less money than in a place where the average property value is $250,000.
To help those poor districts, Kasich’s plan would have the state make up some of the funds they can’t raise on their own. Ninety-six percent of districts in Ohio would be eligible for increases in state funding.
Kasich says district level projections will be available in the middle of this week, and until then, he says, superintendents can more or less figure it out like this: “It affects you on the basis of your situation so the system’s not gamed. It depends on your wealth, your ability to pay and how much the state will do. And the particular issues that you have in your district that is unique to you as a school district.”
“Devil’s in the Details”
After the Governor’s presentation, many superintendents were left scratching their heads.
“The devils in the details,” mused Stephen Dackin from Reynoldsburg, but overall he sees a lot he likes in Kasich’s plan.
“There’s a lot of things that can reduce the reliance on levies,” Dackin says. “Part of it is I think will be imbedded in the ‘Straight-A’ fund and deregulation that will give superintendents the opportunity to reduce or contain their costs better than we’ve been able to do before which ultimately will result in less requests to the voters.”
Of course that doesn’t mean schools won’t have to ask for levies.
“All school districts will probably have to go to the ballot at some point in time,” Dackin says. “The question is how long are those intervals and I really think that this will afford us the opportunity to elongate those intervals.”
Some superintendents fear they’ll have to ask for levies just as frequently as they do now.
“I think in our case in a wealthy suburban district we still are going to be dependent upon the taxpayers passing levies to increase our revenue on a regular basis and when needed so you know I don’t think it’s going to be that helpful to us,” says Randy Boroff of Revere Schools. “We’re still going to have to do what we have to do to maintain the standards that we’ve established in our district.”
It’s the continued reliance on property taxes that bothers Bill Phillis.
He’s the lawyer who started the case that prompted the Supreme Court to declare the state’s school funding system unconstitutional – four times.
“From the basic sound bites that were presented it would appear to be that the dependence on property tax in terms of insuring a high quality education is going to remain the same or actually increase,” Phillis says.
Many schools already have levy issues on the ballot this spring. Those superintendents are left wondering how to sway voters and explain this new school funding proposal, while they try to make sense of it themselves.