School aid plans a mixed bag
The proposal introduced by Ohio House Republicans this week increases funding for more school districts around the state than Gov. John Kasich’s plan, but the effects on local school systems vary.
Belpre and Marietta City schools would see smaller increases in the first year of the biennial budget than under the governor’s formula, while Frontier Local stands to gain more than $150,000 and Warren Local more than $850,000 after their funding remained flat in Kasich’s version.
Meanwhile, Fort Frye and Wolf Creek Local schools actually stand to lose state aid compared to this year when transportation and career-tech funding – which weren’t included in the projections released by the governor’s office – are removed from the House projections, which can be viewed online at www.ohiohouse.gov/committee/finance-and-appropriations. However, both districts appear to be in line to receive significantly less “guarantee” dollars, supplemental amounts some state officials have indicated they did not want to keep providing.
“I think we’re getting closer to a workable solution, but I don’t think our efforts are done,” said Tom Gibbs, superintendent of the Fort Frye and Warren Local school districts.
The new plan raises the base amount of funding per student – for which the state supplements the districts – from $5,000 to $5,732. Increasing that was one suggestion made by the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools, which lobbied the House Finance subcommittee on primary and secondary education in recent weeks.
“It’s not what the governor promised us on the 31st of January, but I believe it’s a step in the right direction,” Wolf Creek Local Superintendent Bob Caldwell said.
School officials were optimistic when Kasich addressed a meeting of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators in Columbus, outlining his “Achievement Everywhere” plan by saying poorer districts would receive more money and wealthier ones would get less. But for many, the optimism was replaced with disappointment when the actual numbers were revealed and 60 percent of districts in the state were projected to see no increase.
In Washington and surrounding counties, districts that weren’t in line for an increase would have seen less funding than they currently get if not for guarantee money that administration officials indicated they wanted to eventually phase out.
That meant Morgan Local Schools stood to lose $1.6 million in the not-too-distant future, Superintendent Lori Snyder-Lowe said. But under the House plan, the district is not on any guarantee funds and actually would see a $261,033 increase in fiscal year 2014 and an additional $423,449 on top of that the following year.
“We were so worried about losing (nearly) $2 million that to have an increase, we’re just elated,” Snyder-Lowe said.
Noble Local Schools would see an approximately $150,000 increase in fiscal year 2014 but would still receive nearly $2 million in guarantee funds.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, the number of districts not receiving an increase under the House plan is less than half what it was under Kasich’s.
Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, echoed local officials’ assessment that the changes are an improvement but said there are still flaws. He pointed to the 6 percent cap on districts, saying it’s not enough to allow rural districts to add programs like advanced placement classes and multiple foreign languages nor does it allow larger urban districts’ funding to keep up with enrollment growth.
The cap actually keeps Belpre and Warren from receiving an additional $1.3 million and $993,500, respectively.
“Holy smoke,” Belpre Superintendent Tony Dunn said of the figure. “That’s really big.”
Still, Dunn said he thinks the House’s approach is more balanced than Kasich’s and he wasn’t counting on the more than $500,000 increase the governor’s plan slated for the district in the first place.
“I think this revision goes a long way to help equalize things a little bit,” he said.
Gibbs said he’s glad to see Warren projected for funding increases of $855,000 in fiscal year 2014 and $675,000 in fiscal year 2015, but he still has concerns about the budget’s impact on both districts he leads.
“For rural districts, the big concern is that transportation is inside the formula,” he said.
That means transportation money is included when calculating the 6 percent gain cap, unlike in years past. Depending on how transportation funding is calculated under the new proposal, bringing back busing at Warren High School could yield an additional $200,000 to $300,000 in state aid, Gibbs said, but only if it’s not under the cap.
And moving transportation funding out could have other effects.
“My guess is that if we can get them to pull the transportation out, they’re going to have to drop the gain cap; otherwise they can’t afford it,” Gibbs said.
The cap also cuts Marietta City Schools’ increase for fiscal year 2014 by nearly $2 million. However, the district would receive an additional $448,000 that year and another $466,605 the next, putting the district’s total state aid slightly above what it would have been in the second year of Kasich’s plan.
Like Dunn, Marietta City Superintendent Harry Fleming said he wasn’t counting his district’s additional funding before it was approved. He noted the full House still has to approve the budget, as does the Senate.
“It’s a little early to be getting too concerned about it,” Fleming said.
Fleming also said it seems like the House was attempting to set up a fair system.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said even though House Republicans made changes to the plan, it seems like they have the same priorities as the governor.
“We agree on investing significant new resources in Ohio’s schools, and our approaches have similarities, but there’s more work to do to make sure those resources get to schools based on the needs of students in the classroom,” he said in an email. “This will remain a key priority for the governor.”