COLUMBUS: Ohio senators on Tuesday released more details about their proposed budget for school funding.
On the surface it looks more like the House version passed a few weeks ago, but there’s one catch: You can’t really compare the two.
That’s because updated enrollment and financial figures used by the Legislative Service Commission, which analyzes the financial impact of legislation, aren’t available to the public, Sen. Chris Widener said Friday following a soft rollout of the school funding plan.
Widener’s office deferred comment to Senate Republican spokesman John McClelland, who did not return phone calls Tuesday.
The details emerged as the Senate Finance Committee released its latest changes to the more than $61 billion, two-year spending plan for Ohio.
The Senate version and the House version for the education portion of the state budget each eliminate a component from the governor’s original plan that took into account median household income, and not just property values, when determining how state aid should be distributed.
The Senate also kept funding for transportation and career tech programs inside the formula — a practice the governor, the current formula and previous formulas do not include.
The result: The Senate has proposed a formula that inflates basic aid with $119.3 million in career tech funds and $895.8 million in transportation funding. When that money is removed and the Senate’s proposed two-year education budget is stacked up to the current biennium (which does not include those figures), 351 Ohio school districts — including nine of Summit County’s 17 — would receive less state aid over the next two years.
That’s in spite of comments Senate Majority Leader Keith Faber, R-Celina, made Thursday. He touted $717 million more for education funding than the House had proposed, an 11 percent increase over the current biennium, and said no school would receive less funding (at least in the formula).
The Senate plan does appear to increase overall funding by at least $132 million over the current biennium, a 1 percent increase in basic aid alone. That’s after career tech and transportation funds are removed in an attempt to make an accurate comparison.
And without an updated budget in detail, which Widener said Friday is outdated, it’s not certain that purported increases to early childhood education and reinstatement of some funding for the governor’s Straight A fund (grants to school districts for innovation and efficiency measures), cut in half by the House, would account for such an increase.
Another unknown is how the expansion of school choice programs would affect individual school districts. Those figures, released days after the governor and the House each rolled out their respective budget proposals over the past three months, have yet to be released by the Senate.
Language in the Senate’s budget bill amendments, to be accepted today and voted on Thursday, increases funding for the Jon Peterson Scholarship fund, one of four private voucher programs, by $5 million. The amendments also add some accountability for privately operated charter and parochial schools.
One measure requires private schools with 35 percent of students receiving state tax dollars to administer state testing to all students. Another measure prorates vouchers given to kindergartners and first-graders whose family income rises above 200 percent of the poverty level.
But the amendments do nothing to check the expansion of the EdChoice voucher program, which for the first time would be eligible to students based on poverty and not only on the poor academic rating of a public school.
More than 200 school boards, including Akron’s Board of Education, have issued resolutions objecting to such an expansion.
Another item under review is increased funding for charter schools, which are funded by deducting state aid from public school districts. The largest increase occurred in the governor’s first biennium budget in 2012, when funding for charter schools increased nearly $52.5 million. That year, funding for traditional public schools fell $303.4 million, according to state financial reports from the Ohio Department of Education.
With all these unknowns, there is little time to make sense of the bill before it goes for a vote — especially for school treasurers mapping out shortfalls and surpluses based on shifting state dollars.
Many end up asking the same question:
“What districts benefit?” said Howard Fleeter of the Education Tax Policy Institute.
“Until I have a little more time to look through the spreadsheet, I can’t answer that,” Fleeter said 90 minutes after the spreadsheets were released Tuesday afternoon and 48 hours before Senators are expected to vote on the proposal. From there, a conference committee of Senate and House leaders would review any additional changes to the state budget before Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign the bill later this month.
The Ohio budget for the next two years must be in place by July 1.
Fleeter said that he also was informed that a comparison with the House version would be futile without updated information available.
Other budget issues
State senators already had pulled what’s left of Kasich’s proposed income tax cut from the state budget in favor of tax relief targeted at small businesses. The Ohio House had retained 7 percent of the 20 percent permanent income tax cut originally proposed by Kasich.
Instead of taking up a broader income tax cut, the Senate opted to restore a small business benefit also proposed by Kasich. That proposal would allow individuals to deduct up to $375,000 in net annual business income for income tax purposes. The Senate tax break is worth roughly $1.4 billion, compared with the roughly $1.5 billion price tag for the House’s income tax plan.
As anticipated, Senate budget changes have not included an expansion of Medicaid under the federal health-care overhaul.
But because bills to change Medicaid have been introduced, the Senate pulled a House-added provision that would have required state lawmakers to present legislation by the end of the year.
Other proposed Senate changes would:
• Let public bodies meet in closed-door sessions to consider an application for economic development assistance.
• Ban cruel treatment of companion animals.
• Clarify that owners of spider monkeys would have to register the animals with the state, but still would exempt them from permit and caretaking rules.
• Establishes a $20 fee for people wanting to permanently register their dogs, along with other registration changes.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.