Advocates hope for Ohio education funding overhaul by year’s end, but state senators say there may not be enough time
Updated Dec 02, 6:23 PM; Posted Dec 02, 6:23 PM
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio House is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would bring sweeping changes to how education is funded, since the current scheme was found unconstitutional 23 years ago.
But once in the Senate, House Bill 305 may not get far enough through the legislative process to advance to a floor vote, two senators said, explaining that there were numerous spending figures to review before year’s end, when the two-year General Assembly session expires. All bills that haven’t passed by then will die.
HB 305 is the result of years of work and negotiations in the public education community, since it would change how much money the state’s 610 school districts receive from the state and raise locally for education. Proponents argue that the current funding scheme isn’t a formula and what they’ve created in HB 305 is one that is logical and can be defended.
Sen. Matt Dolan, the Chagrin Falls Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said the components of HB 305 need to be in the next state budget bill, which will be passed next year.
“I remain hesitant to pass this,” he said. “There are still studies that need to be done. I think it’s going to be difficult to pass this out, out of the context of a state budget.”
Dolan said that the years of work that people have devoted to improving upon the bill can’t be vetted by the Senate in a matter of weeks.
Rep. John Patterson, an Ashtabula County Democrat, has been working on a new education funding formula since 2013. He began working on the issue with now Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, five years ago, and brought in members of the public education community to hammer out specifics of the bill three years ago.
He notes the bill has broad bipartisan support. It passed Thursday 32-0 in the House Finance Committee.
“We wanted to get it as right as we could for all, and I would be the first to tell you the bill is not perfect,” Patterson said. “No bill as complex as this one is perfect. But we labored to seek as much perfection as we could. That journey towards perfection cost us valuable time. I would be the first to admit that too. But the fruits of our labors were evidenced today in Finance with a vote of unanimity amongst my colleagues.”
Patterson is leaving the House at the end of the year, due to term limits.
What’s in HB 305?
Currently, the state’s education funding scheme attempts to equalize learning for all Ohio children, regardless of how rich or poor their community is, by bifurcating districts into two categories: those that are guaranteed state funding because their local property taxes can’t generate enough to educate students – which is 336 districts, or most of them – and the remaining ones with higher property values, which caps off the level of state funding they receive.
House Bill 305, and an identical bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 376, creates a formula that starts with the cost to educate children by considering factors such as teacher and other staff salaries, their professional development, the costs of dealing with their social and emotional needs, kids’ career readiness and technology. In the current funding scheme, many of these factors are separate line items in the budget.
Then it computes how much state funding a district needs by considering its property values and residents’ incomes, and changes to enrollment. There are additional funds that flow to the districts – for poverty, preschool, special education, gifted education, English language learners and other items.
Charter schools and private school vouchers would be funded directly from the state. The current system uses money from the local public school budgets to fund them.
To fully implement the bill, it will cost $1.9 billion a year. But the bill is designed so that it takes six years for full funding to kick in.
“The formula is based on the best information we have,” said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, which supports the bill. “It’s also based on a set of objective standards that defines what the state’s obligation will be. Right now, there is no formula.”
Data to review
Sen. Louis “Bill” Blessing, a Cincinnati-area Republican, made some calculations on the bill and concluded it could cost as much as $4 billion a year when fully implemented. His math was criticized by an economist who testified in the House Finance Committee on Thursday.
But Blessing said that’s part of the problem: He didn’t have time to thoroughly comb through the bill, and no one will before Dec. 31.
He also is concerned about state revenues being high enough to pay for it. Although there are six years before full implementation, those first years do have some costs.
“The catch is education is already one of the largest state (General Reserve Fund) line items,” he said. “We’re still in a pandemic. We’re not where we were a year ago. Medicaid has gone up.”
DiMauro of OEA says the momentum is present – SB 376 has 15 cosponsors from both parties. And they’ll continue to press the Senate to pass the bill.
“We know that the Senate’s been throwing up these pretty late-in-the -game roadblocks,” he said. “In a way that’s disappointing. We’re not giving up. This has been in the works for a long time. There has been a tremendous level of partnership, engagement and study and refinement of the formula and it has been happening in a bipartisan fashion over two general assemblies.”