Follow Statehouse discussions on John Kasich’s two-year budget proposals, and it is clear the prospects remain dim for an adequate and equitable system of financing elementary and secondary education in Ohio. At a time when the stakes in a world-class education are so high and public schools are under mounting pressure to pick up their game, the continued lack of a credible and sustainable system of funding Ohio’s school system is disturbing.
The governor unveiled his budget in February. His education team has explained the guiding principle of the funding model as dollars following the student, not adults or buildings. What has emerged from extensive hearings in the House, though, is alarm from a cross section of school administrators statewide, who are deeply skeptical that the governor’s plan will achieve the equity and stability it promised, let alone be adequate to the task of raising achievement everywhere.
Among the shortcomings of the Kasich plan, educators and analysts point out that 60 percent of districts (and about 76 percent of poor, rural districts) would receive no new money, hundreds of them shielded from reductions only by “guarantee” funds, which the governor plans to eliminate eventually. They cite a reduction in base funding per pupil that amounts to $732 less in 2014 than it was in 2009; a freeze on funding for transportation; a new 15 percent deduction for a special-education funding pool; and more fund transfers to private and charter schools.
Gerald Stebelton, who chairs the House Education Committee, recently shared his doubts that the problems with the “incredibly complex system” would be resolved by the June 30 deadline to approve the budget bill. Last week, he indicated the House likely would scrap the Kasich plan in favor of something similar to the “building blocks” model the legislature adopted in 2005, advocated by then-Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican. That model aimed to determine and to fund fully the base cost of the essential elements (teachers and books, for example) of an adequate education, providing additional funding for major challenges such as poverty and special education. The fatal flaw — as with Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s modified version, the “evidence-based” model — was that it never received the funding required.
The reaction to the building-blocks suggestion has been all too predictable. Rob Nichols, spokesman for the governor, has dismissed it as tackling “tomorrow’s challenges with yesterday’s ideas,” and funding “adults, buildings and equipment.” Yet more than 15 years after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled adequacy a key factor for school funding, nothing sounds more yesterday than a plan that makes no effort to assess what Ohio needs to invest to provide an adequate education. Yes, schools need to tackle tomorrow’s challenges. But they can’t do so without a funding system that is adequate to the task.