Invited to Columbus on Thursday to catch a sneak peak at the governor’s plan to fund education, Mogadore Superintendent Christina Dinklocker walked away with the same feeling as many others — not sure exactly what’s happening, but at the moment, there are no major warning flags.
“I hope I’m not eating my words,” she said over the phone, waiting in stand-still traffic on her way back to Mogadore.
In a series of briefings, meetings and a televised town-hall session, the John Kasich administration unveiled its “Achievement Everywhere, Common Sense for Ohio’s Classrooms” plan.
Additional funding will be directed to charter schools and private schools, but the elephant in the room was: How will traditional school districts be affected, and will there be implications for property taxes.
“We really won’t know until we see the simulations,” said David James, superintendent for Akron Public Schools. He later appeared on a panel at the governor’s town-hall meeting.
James and other superintendents walked away from a private rollout in Columbus with a sense of security as the state, for at least the next three years, promises not to decrease funding. Instead, the governor says he will increase overall funding, but the numbers won’t be available until Monday when he reveals the entire state budget.
His funding formula indicates a $1.2 billion increase for education in the next two-year budget compared with the current two-year budget that ends June 30. However, the increase doesn’t make up for the $1.6 billion cut in education in his prior budget — and at the same time the state accumulated a $482 million surplus in the rainy day fund.
New funding models
The governor unveiled a new funding formula that defines how much each district should receive. The formula assumes that every district has property valuation per pupil that equals $250,000, a level enjoyed by the wealthiest 4 percent in the state. The proposal suggests that all districts will be guaranteed funding as if they levied 20 mills of property taxes at that high property valuation. Statewide, that formula would average about $5,000 in revenue per pupil.
In addition, the governor’s proposal spells out “component funding,” which would average $6,233 per pupil. That includes “core aid” of $3,835 and other components of “targeted resources,” special education, poverty aid, money for the gifted and talented and children who speak different languages. Targeted resources will provide additional support for districts with low-income households.
The proposal did not spell out how much of the money will be raised by local property taxes and how much the state will provide.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Thursday evening that property taxes are “not touched” as a part of the equation.
While Barbara Mattei-Smith, an education policy adviser in the governor’s office, said “formula funding” from the state will increase 6 percent in the first year of the two-year budget and 3.2 percent in the second year, she was not specific as to who will receive the money and for what services.
Only 19 school districts in the state have valuation per pupil in excess of $250,000, among them Revere and Nordonia Hills in Summit County.
Revere Superintendent Randy Boroff said he hopes property values, at $344,177 per pupil, will continue to climb. He’ll need the money in three years when guaranteed funding that has supported declining enrollment is phased out.
The governor has proposed ending guarantees, which protected districts from reductions in state aid.
“We’re still going to depend on taxpayers to raise revenue for schools in Revere,” Boroff said.
Expansion of school choice
The governor’s plan includes expansion of the state’s voucher system. The program currently funds education for children who otherwise would be enrolled in a failing public school, or who have special needs.
The major program change is that students living in families with income at 200 percent of the poverty level or below would now be eligible. They could leave a top-performing public school district to attend a private school of their choice.
About 1.2 million children statewide could qualify, according to statistics from the Annie E. Casey Foundation data center.
The program change would be expanded annually, beginning with kindergarten, then adding first grade in the second year. It also would include children from schools that fail to make gains in reading scores at the K-3 level.
Currently, Ohio is spending $126 million for 19,000 students in a variety of voucher programs. That does not include the separate Cleveland program, which receives $11.9 million.
Mattei-Smith said the expansion will add $8.5 million in the first year and $17 million in the second, representing 7 and 13 percent increases respectively. Based on the average voucher cost of $5,997, the additional funding could afford scholarships for more than 2,800 children by the end of the budget cycle in 2015.
The budget also expands funding for charter schools, providing $100 per pupil for facility improvements at the privately operated alternative schools. Based on statewide enrollment, that could add $11.9 million to charters, according to Beacon Journal calculations.
The governor’s office promised superintendents that additional funding for charter and voucher expansions would not be deducted from the money each district currently receives.
“If that’s true, then I’m OK with it. That remains to be seen,” said Steve Farnsworth, superintendent for Hudson schools.
• A $300 million Straight-A Fund that would provide grants for districts with innovative ways to curb costs and increase student performance.
• A set-aside of $50 per pupil to identify gifted and talented students.
• The creation of a data system that compares outcomes and initiatives in similar districts.
• The ability to opt out of some state mandates, among them a per-pupil fee paid to educational service centers for services.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.