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Ohio lawmakers urge school funding fix as session nears end

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Posted at 3:55 PM, Nov 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-07 16:09:14-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With little time left this legislative session, state senators are touting the newest bipartisan proposal for fixing Ohio’s school funding system, with changes meant to address concerns raised about an earlier version in the House.

It’s aimed at a more equitable funding distribution and built on several years of input from schools and other stakeholders.

Like the House version, the Senate proposal still includes a six-year phase-in and would take into account a community’s ability to help fund its schools, factoring in not only property values but local income levels, the sponsors said Friday. But they said it wouldn’t set a minimum district funding capacity because doing so could be unfair to the poorest districts that wouldn’t have the money to meet that bar.

The plan also would direct more money for economically disadvantaged students; route public charter school funding directly from the state rather than through local districts; and provide funding so that all students in first through 12th grades have laptops or digital devices, they said.

Acknowledging the state slashed school funding to balance its budget this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, they noted that their proposed formulas and framework would allow each General Assembly to determine how much money to put toward education.

“As we enter the new General Assembly and a new budget cycle which will be rife with uncertainty, the importance of having a functioning, scalable, transparent and fair school funding plan ... is indisputable,” Democratic state Sen. Vernon Sykes said.

The existing formula doesn’t apply to most districts because of the complicated patchwork that has evolved since Ohio’s school-funding system was found unconstitutional in 1997.

Fixing that is a priority for Republican House Speaker Bob Cupp, who helped assemble the overhaul proposal before he was elevated to lead that chamber this summer.

But lawmakers will be crunched for time to pass a replacement before Dec. 31, when this legislative session ends and the other three lawmakers currently championing the funding overhaul — Republican state Sen. Peggy Lehner, Democratic state Rep. John Patterson and GOP state Rep. Gary Scherer — leave because of term limits.

If no funding fix is passed this year, expect to see the proposal again next session, Lehner said.