Governor unveils school funding plan

Our View

January 31, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Ohio Governor John Kasich has unveiled a school funding overhaul he says will help poor districts compete more evenly while introducing changes to promote innovation and performance, as well as pass the inspection by Ohio’s courts.

The plan rolled out Thursday consists of several components, but basically centers around giving all students the resources to succeed. Kasich’s funding plan would boost districts that are lagging in property values and household incomes

“When we look at Ohio’s students in our school districts across the state, one of the things you notice immediately, is the great disparity in terms of wealth,” Barbara Mattei-Smith, Assistant Policy Director for Education in Kasich’s office, said. “We ask, as a part of our partnership for funding schools, we ask local districts to contribute 20 mills of local property taxes. In our poorest district in the state, those 20 mills will raise about $900 per pupil. In our wealthy district, it raises over $14,000 per pupil. That’s a huge disparity. So a lot of our effort is to reduce that disparity, that ensures that all of our students have an equal opportunity for success.”

Mattei-Smith said Kasich’s plan is to bring every district up to a level of funding as if they had $250,000 of property value for each pupil in their district. She said only 24 districts in the state have valuations higher than $250,000, and that most school districts have a millage of 30 to 40 mills.

“So we are also going to provide targeted assistance in order to help districts raise revenue above 20 mills,” Mattei-Smith said. “We know that household incomes have a factor on that. In order to afford more support, your residents have to have the disposable income that allows them to pay higher taxes. So in the second tier we actually bring income into the calculation.”

That puts the burden half on the property wealth of the district and half on the income wealth of that district.

Kasich’s education advisers say no schools will see reduced funding next year under the current formula, and overall funding will rise. A special fund would be created to reward districts for efficiency and advances.

The plan also offers help for extra costs of special-needs students, and to provide more school choices.

The long-awaited plan is expected to kickoff months of debate over Ohio’s education direction.

“Every child deserves a high-quality education regardless of where they live, their circumstances or their own unique learning traits,” Kasich said Thursday. “It is essential for helping them get good jobs in the future, reach their God given potential, and create the jobs-friendly climate that helps Ohio get back on track.”

According to administration sources, “Achievement Everywhere,” which is part of Kasich’s FY2014-15 budget proposal, helps provide all schools with the resources they need so their students can succeed—regardless of where they live. The plan provides $1.2 billion in total new funds over the biennium for primary and secondary education. Other highlights include:

  • A funding formula that provides schools with the resources to help children achieve, regardless of where they live;
  • Policies that focus on putting dollars in the classroom where educators can help students succeed and work with their parents to make decisions on how best to respond to their unique learning traits;
  • Special funds to help schools transition from unsuccessful models to new strategies that work, and;
  • Relief for educators from rules and regulations that hold them back so they can have more flexibility to meet students’ needs.

Other features include “The Straight-A Fund”, which is the Governor’s plan creating a new $300 million fund to provide one-time grants to those districts with the will to take on ambitious new strategies for helping their students improve their achievement levels and increase their operational efficiency. Any savings generated through these transformations can be used by districts as they see fit, including to improve classroom instruction or make locally-generated property tax revenues go further.

Also, the removal of barriers and providing the flexibility to maximize classroom resources giving educators the maximum ability to help students achieve. “Achievement Everywhere” gives districts the option of setting aside certain mandates that could stand in the way of educators’ and students’ success, as long as the health and safety is prioritized.

Investing in what works is another feature focused on nurturing a uniformly high-achieving education culture across Ohio. “Achievement Everywhere” helps school districts compare their education outcomes and management practices to those of similar districts, so that that they can learn from one another and constantly improve.

There is also a voucher component to Kasich’s plan, as well as one providing additional funding for children whose family income is 200 percent of the poverty level. That help will increase as poverty increases.

“The first obvious positive is that the funding is not going to get cut. So that’s a good thing,” Scott Dutey, Superintendent of Portsmouth City Schools said after listening to Kasich when he spoke in Columbus. “I think they put some time and thought into it, as far as some of the new innovations. We won’t know, at least from what they said, until the middle of next week, to see how it will impact our district. You’re always hopeful. Any additional funds will be a good thing, obviously, with the cuts that have come the last two years.”

Dutey said it is difficult to draw a conclusion until it can be looked at closer in the future, so he said he is keeping a wait-and-see attitude.

“So we’re keeping our fingers crossed, and until we see specific numbers, it’s kind of hard to gauge or have a true feeling on what the impact would be,” Dutey said.

Kasich said the bottom line of the Achievement Everywhere plan is to build upon school improvement initiatives, such as the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee” and “A-to-F Report Card”, to help better educate Ohio’s children and prepare them for successful careers.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com.