Some of Ohio’s wealthier and fastest-growing public school districts are again pressing lawmakers that, in the name of fairness, they at least deserve as much per-pupil funding as the state’s private schools.
Prompted by area districts including Hilliard, Dublin, New Albany and Olentangy, Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, is pushing to get $30 million put into Gov. John Kasich’s off-year budget bill to ensure all districts next year get at least $1,089 per pupil — the state-mandated funding floor for private schools.
Olentangy school Superintendent Wade Lucas told the Senate Education Committee last week that the average school district got 65 percent of what its residents pay in income taxes.
“Olentangy residents receive just 4 percent — that means for every dollar we send, we get back 4 cents,” Lucas said.
The proposal would affect about 30 districts statewide, said Jim Betts, consultant for the Alliance for High Quality Education, a coalition of suburban districts. He noted that a similar proposal was added to law in 2010 but did not take effect as it was supposed to in 2012.
New Albany-Plain Local gets $582 in per-pupil state aid, with local funds paying for 85 percent of district operating expenses.
Although the 4,800-student district got additional money in the last state budget, with 150 to 200 new students each year, New Albany’s per-pupil funding actually fell, said Becky Jenkins, treasurer and chief financial officer of New Albany-Plain Local schools. School officials project enrollment to grow to 5,700 in the next decade.
“I think the legislators understand the problem with districts like us. It’s just a matter of finding the funding and having the political will,” Jenkins said.
But no school-funding change happens in a vacuum, and it’s tough to find officials from the smallest rural districts to the largest urban ones who say they don’t need additional state funding.
Suburban districts have a case that they have been cheated by funding formulas, and the idea of a funding floor that matches private schools makes sense, said Howard Fleeter, a consultant with the Education Tax Policy Institute who has studied school funding in Ohio for about 20 years.
“It comes down to a matter of priority,” he said. “I understand the thinking. The question is where you spend the next dollar, and is that the most pressing problem we have?”
For years, funding caps have not allowed funding to increase with student populations in some growing districts. But when funding is limited, arguing that wealthier districts deserve more money can be a tough political sell.
When Gov. John Kasich rolled out his new two-year school-funding plan in February 2013, it was set to provide Olentangy schools with 500 percent more state funding in 2015 than the district got in 2013. It would have been 350 percent more for New Albany, plus healthy increases for others, including Dublin and Hilliard.
Regardless of whether those increases were deserved, the plan faced sharp criticism because it drove so much new funding to wealthier districts, while leaving many poor, Appalachian districts flat-funded.
Lawmakers made major changes to the plan, directing more money to lower-income districts and capping funding increases at 6.25 percent the first year and 10.5 percent in year two. Still, in the end, suburban districts generally picked up a higher percentage increase than those in rural areas and small towns.
Fleeter has found that if those funding caps were removed, fast-growing districts would see major new money.
“I don’t know that Sen. Hughes needs to do anything,” Fleeter said. “If they funded their own formula, the problem would take care of itself.”
Hughes said he’s going to push to get the provision into the off-year budget, which should pass by early June. If it doesn’t make it, he hopes it further educates his colleagues on the issue for when he pushes next year to get it into the new two-year state budget.
Rep. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, has introduced a similar bill in the House.
“My focus is to bring attention where we have high growth and excellent school districts, and they’re not getting much money back from what the property owners pay into the state,” Hughes said.
“Since they’re doing what we want them to do, at least give them the minimum of the privates.”
By Jim Siegel & Catherine Candisky - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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