Paying for school


Gov. John Kasich unveiled his long-awaited overhaul of Ohio school funding this week. The plan appears to build greater equity into the school finance system, although district-level details won’t be known until next week.

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But it also opens the door to reductions in state support of public education. And it potentially gives with one hand while taking back with the other hand, by making it easier for students — and their state aid — to migrate to private and charter schools.

The good:

●The proposal sets $250,000 in property value per student and 20 mills of school taxes (enough to raise $5,000 per student) as baselines, then pays the difference for the 96 percent of school districts that don’t raise that much. The state will pay $5,000 for each student who attends charter schools, which can’t levy property taxes.

Mr. Kasich’s plan also ranks districts in wealth, based on property taxes and family income. The top 20 percent would receive no additional aid. The rest would get aid on a sliding scale equivalent to 5 mills to 15 mills of taxes.

●The plan includes more money to support students with disabilities and those who are learning to speak English. It increases funding of the governor’s third-grade reading guarantee, and helps districts pay for all-day kindergarten. And it provides funds to identify and serve gifted and talented students, and to support students who take college courses in high school.

The governor plans to ask the General Assembly to increase basic aid to the state’s 613 school districts and 353 charter schools by 6 percent, to $6.2 billion, in the 2013-14 school year and by 3.2 percent, to $6.4 billion, in 2014-2015. Other items push the total cost to $7.4 billion and $7.7 billion respectively.

Among these items is the “Straight A” fund, a $300 million pool that would make competitive grants to schools that innovate to improve education, increase efficiency, and save money.

The bad:

●Despite the governor’s assurances that his funding plan is constitutional, it still relies heavily on local property taxes. The governor says guarantees that protected districts from state cuts in the past are “unsustainable” in the long term. That raises the specter of reductions in state aid that school districts would have to make up through local taxes.

●Mr. Kasich would extend the Ed Choice voucher program next year to any kindergarten student whose family earns up to twice the poverty level. First graders would be included in the second year. He would provide vouchers to students in kindergarten through third grade whose districts consistently fail to meet the third-grade reading guarantee.

Thousands more students could qualify to transfer to private and charter schools, reducing the positive impact of the funding overhaul on poorer, lower-performing districts such as Toledo Public Schools. Yet charter schools have yet to prove they do a better job — and often do worse — educating Ohio’s children.

●The extra state support based on district wealth will follow students who opt to attend charter schools. That means that online and brick-and-mortar charter schools will get more money for students from poorer districts than they do for students from richer ones.

●The proposal doesn’t make up the estimated $1.3 billion to $1.8 billion in state aid that school districts lost in the current two-year budget. Districts such as TPS that have struggled to pass levies may find that they soon will have to appeal to voters again.

●The “Straight A” fund would be a one-time opportunity. Schools would be responsible after the first year for funding any programs they create.

Estimates of how much each district might benefit from the funding formula are expected next week. Still, it would seem initially to be good for TPS, which is the sort of high-poverty, low-property-value district Governor Kasich’s proposal appears to target.

Mr. Kasich says he will seek bipartisan input on his funding overhaul. Democrats and teachers complain that they weren’t invited to contribute to the proposal. They too need to be heard.