When Gov. John Kasich rolled out his new school aid formula late last month, he pledged that it would effectively end the indefensible — and illegal — disparities in spending per pupil between Ohio’s rich and poor districts. That was, and remains, a vital commitment.
But the preliminary estimates his administration released last week of how much money school districts would get under the formula suggest that, at least initially, the funding gap would not close, and might even widen. If the governor cannot resolve that anomaly, state lawmakers will have to take on the task.
The Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly declared that the system of school finance violates the state constitution. Overreliance on local property taxes — whose bases and rates vary widely among districts — deny children in poorer communities such as Toledo the opportunity for an equal education, the court ruled.
After slashing state aid to schools in the current two-year budget, Governor Kasich said that his new formula will give more state money to poorer districts and less to richer ones. But in terms of basic aid, his office’s own numbers suggest the opposite, because the formula appears largely to reward enrollment growth.
In the first year of the new two-year state budget, for example, Toledo Public Schools would get no more money than it is getting this year; it would get less than a 4-percent increase the following year. But Washington Local Schools, a better-off district in Toledo, would get a 25-percent increase next school year.
Rossford would get a 48-percent bump next year. Superintendents of affluent local districts said they were perplexed by the apparent windfalls the state formula would give their systems.
The new formula only partially restores the state aid cuts of the past two years. Administration officials warn school districts that are losing students that they can expect less aid in future years, even if those districts’ fixed costs do not decline to the same extent their enrollments do.
The governor pledges to provide special aid to hard-pressed districts, such as Toledo, that have large numbers of low-income taxpayers, poor and disabled students, and children for whom English is not their first language. That targeted money could ease the rich-poor disparities somewhat.
At the same time, though, Mr. Kasich promises more state money for private-school vouchers and for-profit charter schools. His administration says such aid will not come at the expense of traditional public schools, but it’s hard to see how that can be avoided.
Governor Kasich has expressed the right principles — greater equity and adequacy — for public school funding. His formula must do more to embody these values. The General Assembly and local school leaders now must work to make sure that happens.
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