Ohio Governor’s Controversial Funding Vetoes Benefit Low-Capacity School Districts

Commentary

Ohio Governor’s Controversial Funding Vetoes Benefit Low-Capacity School Districts

Several school districts’ budgets across Ohio changed quickly with Gov. John Kasich’s vetoes to the budget last week. The legislature had been working heavily constructing the states’ biennial budget proposal that contained significant provisions to school district funding. However, Gov. Kasich’s 44 line-item vetoes to the state budget bill, House Bill 64, resulted in about $78.3 million cut to public school funding and removal of funding guarantees to several wealthier school districts.

“Guarantee” refers to protected funding school districts receive no matter what the state’s funding formula says, so schools do not see their basic state funding cut from year to year. While guarantees serve as a comfortable cushion for districts, they mitigate fair funding formulas potential to improve achievement outcomes for disadvantaged students. Both guarantees and caps-a districts’ ceiling on funding increases year over year-conserve districts’ funding levels, which do not reflect current student population or its ability to raise local revenue. After years of these guarantees being in place in Ohio, Gov. Kasich and his education advisers labeled them as unsustainable beyond this two-year budget and wanted to study how to wean districts off of them.

The governor’s “wean” method entailed deleting the guarantees and a tangible personal property (TPP) reimbursement supplement for certain districts. Gov. Kasich explained that these payments to the “richest districts” were not in the public interest. Olentangy Local Schools, one of the states’ wealthier school districts, saw its state funding reduced by $4.3 million from what it would have received under the budget as passed by the legislature.

TPP reimbursement supplements for certain wealthier districts were vetoed only for the second year of the biennium. This removal means there will be more money for districts with less capacity to raise funds on their own and less money for districts with declining enrollments. Kasich’s veto message explained his motives were to divert resources to lower capacity school districts and restore the TPP law to its original intent-to be declining and temporary. This reimbursement accounts for five percent or more of the budgets in 88 school districts, according to the Coalition for Fiscal Fairness in Ohio.

Additionally, the budget allocates more than $20 billion over the two year period, which is the highest level on record. The legislation increases per-pupil funding by $100 annually-$5,900 in fiscal ’16 and $6,000 in ’17. State Superintendent Richard Ross also said the budget includes incentives for expanding career technical programs, an extra $40 million for early childhood education, $10 million for larger classes enabling high school students to earn college credit and incentives for higher graduation and reading proficiency rates. Ross did not have details on how the governor’s vetoes would affect overall state funding and the Ohio State Department of Education will not compile funding totals for districts until after the start of the new school year.

This proposed budget change would more correctly account income in the distribution of state resources and more efficiently target state aid to districts with less capacity to generate local revenue. Ohio already has a history of allocating resources to students based on need. A recently released report from Education Trust revealed that Ohio and Minnesota led the nation in allocating resources for their most vulnerable students, with their “highest poverty districts receiv[ing] 22 percent more in state and local funds per student than the lowest poverty districts.”

State Director of StudentsFirst Ohio Greg Harris explained that members who are teachers currently have to readdress student needs through Individual Education Plans to secure extra support. Fully implementing a weighted student formula indexed against poverty would allow for extra resources, such as teachers aides and reading specialists. In turn, these resources would benefit students based off their individual needs and produce successful outcomes to improve achievement gaps.

Gov. Kasich’s vetoes intended to perfect their student formula by directing more funding to school districts that need support are steps in the right direction for providing opportunity to all students. Ultimately, Ohio needs to develop a transparent weighted funding formula that has set appropriate amounts and relies less on local property taxes to support students who endure the greatest barriers to learning. A highly effective school funding formula would not have to rely on guarantees, but rather on its own methodology to spend state resources to produce the most equitable education for Ohio’s students.