Many school superintendents sighed with relief as John Kasich presented his plans for changing the way Ohio pays for public education. They had been uneasy about what a governor who left schools with $1.6 billion less in the current biennium would propose going forward. They received the outline on Thursday. On Monday, the actual funding numbers arrive, as the governor unveils his two-year state budget plan.
What did the superintendents like? They were pleased to see a proposed increase in state money for schools, 6 percent in the first year and 3 percent in the second. The governor targets resources in helpful ways, for such items as special education, gifted students, early learning programs and children in poverty. Welcome the $300 million for a Straight A Fund, money set aside for grants directed to school districts exploring new approaches to boosting achievement and increasing efficiency.
It helps, too, as the governor has proposed, to give districts flexibility in meeting mandates, inviting new methods for reaching goals.
For decades, governors and lawmakers have struggled with the problem of inequity in funding, driven by an overreliance on local property taxes, 1 mill in some parts of the state raising $900, yet in others as much as $14,000. The Kasich framework offers a path toward easing the gap, the state moving more aggressively to route money to poorer districts. The governor deserves credit for candor, driving home the point to wealthy districts: For the most part, you are on your own.
What should be stressed is that for all the governor’s familiar hyperbole, the framework doesn’t amount to a striking departure from the past. Other governors have proposed similar routes, the equity question hard to avoid, especially in the wake of the four rulings by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Worth recalling is that the DeRolph case wasn’t simply about equity. It also involved adequacy, the question of whether school districts had the resources necessary to provide children with the education they needed.
Troubling about the governor’s proposal is the math that suggests state spending at $5,000 per pupil. That rates below what the state has been providing of late, a sum closer to $5,700. It also reminds that even with the proposed increases in state funding, the plan does not make up for the reductions districts have endured the past two years.
Indications are the governor did not link the funding level to what is required for students to achieve, the resources needed, for instance, to meet the tougher core curriculum or the third-grade reading guarantee. No question, Ohioans will learn more as details arrive and the debate evolves. The governor has put forward a framework on which to build. He also has triggered questions, such as whether an income tax cut is warranted when schools still lack sufficient resources.