“If you are poor you’re going to get more, if you’re richer you’re going to get less,” Governor John Kasich said when he first introduced his new school funding formula.
But a week later, when the administration released estimates of how much money each district would receive, many poor districts saw nothing extra.
But some rich districts saw more.
In some cases a lot more.
So what gives?
A Lot of Changes“We’ve had a lot of changes over the last 5 years,” Barbara Mattei-Smith, explained on a conference call with reporters.
“We’ve had a lot of valuation changes, we’ve had people move, we have student population growth in some of those suburban districts while declining growth in our urbans,” she said. “So with some of those shifts going on that’s been some of the big cause for why these percentages are the way they are.”
Dick Ross, the governor’s top education advisor, put it like this: “If the media’s surprised I mean this represents reality and I think maybe the perception needs to be recognized as not being what’s real.”
Basically, the governor’s staff says districts we used to think of as “rich” – mostly suburban districts with high property values – are no longer rich. Those districts have seen drops in property values but spikes in student population without any extra support from the state.
On the other hand, districts we think of as “poor” – mostly rural districts – are now considered rich- or richer than they were. Rural property values have risen sharply thanks to rising corn and soybean prices and the oil and gas-drilling boom.
“We’re Not Wealthy”
“Right now? No, we’re not wealthy,” says David Quattrochi, superintendent of Carrollton Exempted Schools. Carrollton is the mecca of the fracking boom in Ohio.
“In the future, I sure hope so,” Quattrochi says.”I sure hope the money and a lot of the revenue generated will stay here in this county and we’ll be able to prosper from the oil and gas boom but at this point, no we’re not a wealthy school.”
He hopes they will be in the future, but he’s not terribly optimistic at the moment.
It’s been 36 years since Carrollton schools voters passed a levy, though not for lacking of trying. School officials will try again with a levy on the May ballot.
The district also hopes to get money from a half dozen fracking wells planned for school property.
But in the meantime, the district will rely heavily on state funding – more than half of Carrollton Schools’ budget is made up of state dollars.
“Reverse Robin Hood”
Tom Wheaton, a Carroll County commissioner bluntly describes the governor’s funding formula: “Reverse Robin Hood.”
Wheaton says the way he sees it, the Governor is stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, “because we’re not rich yet.”
He says you can’t assume poor districts like Carrollton will suddenly see a reversal of fortune.
“There are some counties that are very well off and have $500,000, $1 million homes that are getting 13 million and we’re getting nothing,” he says.
Grown Three School Districts in Ten Years
“I can totally respect the concerns of the rural district when they say ‘where’s our money,’” says Wade Lucas, superintendent of Olentangy Schools just north of Columbus. “That’s been our campaign for the last ten years.”
His suburban, well-off district would get a 330 percent increase under the Governor’s plan – an increase Lucas says is overdue.
In 1990, the district only needed one building for all of their students, K-12. Today, Olentangy Schools has 23 buildings.
The district has seen explosive population growth, and Lucas says state aid has not kept up.
“The average sized school district in the state of Ohio is 3000 students. We’ve grown three school districts over ten years basically, at zero dollars from the state,” he says. “I’m not talking about a few, I’m not talking about a guarantee, I’m talking about zero.”
State aid makes up just five percent of Olentangy schools’ budget. Lucas says it may look like the funding increase the district would get is huge, but compared to how many more students they have to educate now, it’s really not.
And this could be a one-time windfall for districts like Olentangy that have seen rapid growth.
The Kasich administration promises over the long haul, poor students will indeed get more money than affluent ones.
Note: A previous version of this story identified Tom Wheaton as a Carrollton County Commissioner. The county is actually Carroll County.