COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio House approved a bipartisan proposal to overhaul the state’s unconstitutional school funding system on Thursday, though it’s uncertain whether the plan will get a vote this month in the Republican-led Senate as some lawmakers question the accuracy and feasibility of the eventual price tag — an estimated $2 billion annually.
Lawmakers championing the proposal for a more equitable funding distribution have pushed for action before year’s end, when several of them leave office because of term limits and the legislative process restarts with the next General Assembly. But the Republican who leads the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls, has indicated he thinks the changes will take more time to fully evaluate and should be considered during next year’s state budget process.
Outgoing Democratic Rep. John Patterson, a former teacher from Jefferson who has spent years working toward a school funding fix, urged his colleagues not to wait and to consider it a first step toward that budget.
“If this plan is transparent, and it is, if it’s predictable, and it is, and if it’s sustainable, and it is, this is the time,” Patterson said shortly before the plan cleared the GOP-led House with broad bipartisan support.
The proposal, built on several years of discussions with schools and other stakeholders, would take into account a base cost of educating a typical student, as well as a community’s ability to help fund its schools, factoring in not just property values but also local income levels. Among other changes, it would eliminate funding caps and guarantees that affect a majority of Ohio’s 600-plus districts; direct more money for economically disadvantaged students; and route public charter school funding directly from the state rather than through local districts.
It would be phased in over six years.
Supporters say the plan would address many problems with the complicated funding patchwork that has evolved since Ohio’s formula was found unconstitutional in 1997.
For more than two decades since then, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the state has avoided its constitutional responsibility to provide an adequate education, said Rep. Fred Strahorn, a veteran Democratic lawmaker from Dayton who noted his own embarrassment about that.
“This was never about the money,” Strahorn told fellow House members Thursday. “This was always about us not having the political will to do what was right for our children.”
Teachers unions and groups representing school boards, administrators and school finance and operations officials urged legislators to support the plan.
Backers say the proposed framework mostly steers clear of specific funding appropriations and would allow each General Assembly to determine how much money to put toward education. That’s been a point of concern as the state slashed school funding to balance its budget this year and faces the possibility of more belt-tightening as the coronavirus pandemic continues.