With the release of the funding estimates for school districts this week, it looks less and less like John Kasich finally has solved Ohio’s school-funding enigma as he has pledged since he took office.
Promising a fresh new way to finance achievement everywhere, he abandoned early an approach his predecessors had set in motion, based on the concept of funding adequately the “building blocks” (Bob Taft) or “evidence-based components” (Ted Strickland) of an effective education. The snag, of course, was that as powerful as the concept was, the state budgets failed to allocate enough funds to back up the formulas.
Unfortunately, as presented, the governor’s replacement mechanism appears unfinished. Consider the admission that second-year changes in the formula have not been simulated and no projections made as to how many years it will take to implement fully the formula or how school districts will be affected when the formula is fully implemented. If the state cannot tell how its formula will pan out one year out, how can districts plan for achievements on which they will be graded?
The plan falls short, too, of the clarity and fairness the governor touts. A key issue that has driven litigation and legislation for 20 years is equity in funding. The governor rightly gives high priority to erasing the disparities in property wealth that enable some districts to raise far more than others in local tax money. He has said in so many words — much to his credit — that his goal is a fair distribution of state funding so that poorer districts receive more, an approach routinely denounced by wealthier districts as playing Robin Hood.
To that end, the budget proposes a “core opportunity aid” to provide enough state funds to make 20 mills of property valuation equivalent to $250,000 per pupil in every district. A second level of funding, “targeted assistance,” would take into account property wealth and income levels in the district. The plan offers extra funds for special categories (students with disabilities and English learners, for instance). The assumption is, except for the guarantee ensuring no district will receive less than in the previous year, the plan overall would be kinder and fairer to poorer districts.
Yet examine the funding distribution, and the landscape gets muddled. For example, in Summit County, Springfield and Manchester, with less than half the property wealth of Revere, get zero funding increases, just like Revere. The increases for Akron in the two years are just shy of 3 percent and 6 percent, but affluent Copley-Fairlawn gets a 25 percent increase each year. Elsewhere, East Cleveland, along with most of Ohio’s poor, rural districts, are zeroed out, while wealthy Olentangy, near Columbus, receives a 332 percent increase.
If there is a method to these puzzling inconsistencies, the governor must make it clear.