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Ohio school-funding plan still shortchanges poor districts, analysis finds

By Norwalk Reflector staff • Sep 5, 2019 at 9:00 PM

A good school-funding plan contains two major elements:

1. Adequacy: Is enough money provided to deliver a good education?

2. Equity: Is the money divided fairly among richer and poorer districts?

The proposal that Ohio's state legislators are expected to consider this month generally gets an "A" on adequacy but an incomplete on equity, said longtime school-funding analyst Howard Fleeter.

"They've pushed a lot of the right levers," said Fleeter, whose analysis released Thursday was performed on behalf of the nonprofit Ohio Education Policy Institute, a research arm for both school administrators and teachers unions.

The proposal "makes significant progress in addressing the issues that have plagued Ohio's school funding formula for many years," the 24-page analysis says.

However, the measure "does not go far enough in closing the equity gap between wealthier and less wealthy districts in Ohio. ... This gap is evident in urban, rural and small-town school districts and is most pronounced in the small-town and rural districts."

For example, if the proposal were fully phased in next year, the wealthiest 20 percent of districts would have local, state and federal funding totaling $11,307 per pupil, compared with $9,747 in the poorest 20 percent, Fleeter found. The gap of $1,560 would be a reduction of only $23.

Monroeville Local Schools Superintendent Ralph Moore said he keeps an eye on the state funding saga, but he isn’t holding his breath.

“School funding was a problem 38 years ago,” said Moore, beginning sixth year at Monroeville and 39th in education. “Clearly what we have done isn’t working. 

“I keep and eye on it but until they get ready to vote I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it. The system was declared unconstitutional and the funding system inadequate and we are here 30 years later still talking about it. And with the unfunded mandates that come down every year ... until those situations are taken care of it is tough

“This has been a painful endevour. I am anxious to see how this progresses and how it will affect us.”

Moore said one of the main problems with school funding is that property owners are overburdened.

“We have worked very hard to make our district solvent. Our voters passed a levy five years ago to support us. We’re working really hard not to rely on Columbus solving our problems. We have to sell ourselves to our voters. There is no good time to go to voters. ... You need a good track record of trust and support.”

Will the state ever get this figured out?

“I don’t think I’ll see it,” Moore said. “I see no reason for it to be settled with their track record. Public school districts have to file five-year forecasts. Our state legislature went past their deadline to file a two-year budget. ... I am not optimistic to be blunt. This has been an ongoing thing for a long time. I hope it happens.

Fleeter’s critique of the proposal developed by a team headed by state Reps. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and John Patterson, D-Jefferson, comes as legislators gear up for hearings on the bipartisan duo's House Bill 305. Cupp and Patterson say they hope the new setup gets implemented by mid-2020 to start a six-year phase-in designed to finally satisfy the Ohio Constitution's requirement that the state provide a "thorough and efficient" public school system. Although the numbers are squishy, the plan probably will cost around $1.5 billion a year when fully implemented.

"Our goal continues to be developing a funding system that provides all Ohio students the opportunity to access the tools needed to reach their potential regardless of what ZIP code they live in or circumstances they face," said Gail Crawley, spokeswoman for House Speaker Larry Householder, a Glenford Republican.

"Our system has challenges beyond funding that also must be addressed. Reasonable accountability, reduced testing, fair report cards, and recognizing that classroom success isn't only about advancing students to the next grade level, but also about growing children into productive members of society while promoting local governance with balanced state oversight as well."

Fleeter said the Cupp-Patterson plan suffers from putting too many districts into the same category when determining how much local residents should be paying for their schools. Ohio districts are divided into five categories based on income and property values under the plan. But that means that the richest category, with 134 school districts, includes both Northern Local in Perry County, which has a median income of $41,826, and Orange City southeast of Cleveland, where the median income is $93,421.

"They're treating too many places with higher income and lower income the same," Fleeter said.

Ironically, Northern Local is where the original school-funding lawsuit began a quarter century ago. But its property wealth has increased significantly in that time.

Fleeter had unequivocal praise for the Cupp-Patterson plan's method of calculating the actual cost of an education, the first attempt to do so for a state school funding formula in a decade, since the administration of Gov. Ted Strickland — which couldn't pay for it, due to the Great Recession. The price tag of the current measure certainly will be an issue, especially because it will be rolled out well after the state implemented a two-year budget.

However, two-thirds of the House's 99 members already are co-sponsoring the Cupp-Patterson bill even though it has not received its first hearing. In addition, Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, has expressed tentative backing for the plan.


Darrel Rowland of  The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.



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