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Published: Thursday, 1/31/2013

Ohio school funding formula unlikely to be cut

Plan gives more to charter schools, private education vouchers

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Details remained tight Wednesday, but the amount of money going into the new school funding formula that Gov. John Kasich will publicly unveil today is not expected to be reduced again.

But how well individual districts do overall will depend on whether they benefit from pools of additional money targeting poorer districts and such things as reading programs and services for gifted and special needs students.

The plan also will hold additional help for charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers for students to attend private and religious schools.

The sales job will begin immediately when Gov. John Kasich unveils his long-awaited revamp of how Ohio pays for K-12 schools.

Mr. Kasich will present his plan at a meeting of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators before talking with reporters and leading a town hall-style discussion with an invitation-only audience in Columbus.

“He’s trying to do some things that I think are going to be helpful to young people, particularly in urban areas,” House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) said. “Part of that is just a reflection of [Cleveland Mayor Frank] Jackson.”

Mr. Kasich partnered with Mr. Jackson last year to reform Cleveland Public Schools, a process that the governor has held up as an example as he talks about reform statewide. But Mr. Batchelder said Ohioans shouldn’t expect Mr. Kasich’s statewide plan to be a larger version of the Cleveland plan.

That plan, among other things, included flexibility for the district to keep high-performing teachers at the expense of those with more seniority, tie teacher pay to performance, and share some local property tax revenue with charter schools.

“I think there will be other schools looking for a little bit of Cleveland and something else on top,” Mr. Batchelder said.

A budget must be approved by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

After budget cuts in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion over the last two years, district superintendents are eager to hear the details of the new funding distribution formula and, more importantly, how much money the governor wants to funnel through it.

Democrats have argued that past cuts at the state level have led to numerous tax levies at the local level.

Democratic legislators fear funding levels could remain stagnant despite the state’s improving fiscal position and additional mandates on schools.

“[Current school funding levels] can’t become the new normal … We need to get back to ground zero before the cuts,” said Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.

But a major infusion of additional funding is not expected in this budget to compensate for past cuts, despite the fact that the state expects to finish the year with a roughly $500 million budget surplus.

The Republican governor is expected to encourage more schools to tie teacher pay to performance.

Mr. Kasich has talked about targeting more state funding toward the classroom rather than school bureaucracy.

“Ohio is on the road to recovery, but we have a lot more work to do to strengthen our schools and give our kids the best opportunities to succeed,” Mr. Kasich wrote in a campaign fund-raising email sent to supporters.

The sales pitch on the school-funding plan as well as the rest of the $50 billion-plus, two-year budget Mr. Kasich will propose on Monday will continue on Feb. 19 with his evening State of the State address in Lima. The House voted across party lines 80-16 and the Senate 24-9 on Wednesday to approve Mr. Kasich’s request to take the speech on the road for the second time. Last year’s was in Steubenville, the first time the speech had not been delivered at the Statehouse.

Rep. Ron Gerberry (D., Austintown) mourned the loss of the tradition.

“What we’ve done is take one last tradition, and we’ve turned it into a political event,” he said.

Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) applauded the chance to make Lima capital for a day.

“Some people call it the Other Ohio,” he said. “Maybe we have a second-city mentality … We’re not the state capital, but we do have a great deal of hometown pride. Some of the counties in our part of the state have the lowest unemployment rate in the state.”

Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) was the sole Democrat in the upper chamber to vote “yes” on the move.

“The governor’s State of the State is a message to the legislature that I feel should be delivered at the Statehouse,” she said. “However, in so much as the governor chooses to go outside of the capital, I felt it was a good opportunity to showcase northwest Ohio.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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