Those who oppose a proposed constitutional amendment to fix Ohio's school funding system might find it a blessing in disguise.
That was the thought of state Rep. Matt Barrett (D-Amherst) who discussed school funding and a variety of other education issues Monday at an open forum.
Barrett said he opposes the amendment and wishes it was not moving forward at this time. However, he pointed out that only one-third of the Legislature was new to Columbus this year meaning many of the same people who have failed to fix the system since the Ohio Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1994 still are in office.
Barrett, a freshman legislator, said if the proposal gets enough signatures to get on the ballot it might prompt those lawmakers who have been resistant to tackle such a complex and divisive issue to act.
"I would prefer it would not have started this year. My understanding is the General Assembly is going to sit back and see if this is going to be a threat," Barrett said, adding he did not think that was the right approach. "But, I think it's an incentive for us to finally talk about it."
Charles See, the Ohio Department of Education's director of legislative services, said the state board of education was considering many different proposals.
"There is not a consensus on if the constitutional amendment is what we need," See said. "It's part of the consideration. The board has no official position yet."
However, John Lendrum, a Norwalk School Board member, said without guidance from the state, many local school boards will come under pressure from advocacy groups and citizens to sign the petition to place the amendment on the November ballot.
Barrett said he was optimistic that Gov. Ted Strickland's proposed budget would actually help solve many of the funding problems. He said under Strickland's formula, which includes a 3 percent per pupil funding increase, Norwalk City Schools would see the third largest increase in state revenues $3 million per year in 2008 and 2009.
However, Norwalk Superintendent Wayne Babcanec was skeptical about those numbers, especially because Norwalk's enrollment has been increasing for eight years and he expects it to level out.
"He would be my favorite governor if he got me $6 million over 2 years," Babcanec said.
See said that the department of education has not crunched the numbers on its own, but said he had no reason to doubt Barrett's numbers, which come from the Office of Budget and Management.
Barrett was also quick to add that even if the district did bring in $3 million per year, those figures would not necessarily be the net gain. The governor's proposal would give districts that were creative in finding funding sources Norwalk, for example, uses an income tax to generate revenue an opportunity to reduce the reliance on local taxes.
"It's about giving local districts options," he said.
The state budget must be passed by June 30.