CINCINNATI: Leaders of at least some of Ohio’s financially struggling school districts are rallying behind Gov. John Kasich’s funding plan, which has drawn critics who say it doesn’t do enough for poor districts.
A half-dozen superintendents from around the state told reporters Friday how their districts would benefit from the Republican governor’s approach. They like funding in the plan that’s targeted for the poorest students and for special-needs students, such as those with disabilities or those learning English as their second language.
“We feel the formula is fair, and there is a rhyme and reason for why it is what it is,” said John Scheu, superintendent of Sidney City Schools in western Ohio.
“We’re very supportive of the plan,” said Ron Sexton, superintendent of Wilmington City Schools, in a southwest Ohio community hard hit during the recession by the loss of thousands of jobs when DHL Express ended delivery operations at its air park. Sexton said property values plummeted as unemployment jumped, eroding the schools’ tax base. Wilmington’s state funding would rise by 20 percent in estimates for Kasich’s proposal, which Sexton said would be a major help.
Kasich this week repeated in his State of the State message that his proposal is student-focused and will help close Ohio’s long-standing funding inequities while adding $1.2 billion for schools over the next two years. He also proposes a $300 million state fund to reward individual districts with grants for innovation and efficiency.
Critics among some education officials and Democratic legislators have challenged Kasich’s description of his plan. They say it doesn’t offset earlier cuts and leaves most schools and many of the state’s poor districts without needed additional money. There also have been complaints about Kasich’s expanded support for charter schools and private school vouchers. The proposal is now before the state legislature.
Ohio Education Association spokeswoman Michele Prater said Friday that Kasich’s school plan and proposed state budget make “fair funding impossible. ... This budget short-changes students and forces many local communities to rely more than ever on local property taxes.”
Other superintendents on Friday’s conference call were from Hamilton Local Schools in central Ohio, Lorain in northeast Ohio, and Lancaster and Marietta in southeast Ohio.
While Marietta City Schools Superintendent Harry Fleming said the funding plan would help in his district, where the poverty level has risen, he questioned why many districts in the economically struggling Appalachian Ohio region aren’t getting more money.
“There is a great deal of concern there about the formula, and how it misses a lot of people who need help,” Fleming said. “I would like to see the governor’s formula tweaked to the point that it would help all districts that are poor, not just some.”
Kasich education advisers have said there is a transition period for the school funding formula, with adjustments for population changes, and that the governor has insisted on guaranteeing that no district would receive reduced base state funding in the near term.
“These districts may be flat-funded in the new plan, but that’s far better than the pain that they may have felt under the old formula,” said Richard Ross, an architect of the Kasich plan.
Among the outspoken critics of Kasich’s plan has been Franklin City Schools Superintendent Arnol Elam in southwest Ohio, who last week wrote to parents urging them to campaign to make sure Kasich and legislators supporting him aren’t re-elected. He was upset that his working-class district would get no additional money under the plan, while three neighboring wealthier districts would get more.
Elam on Thursday settled the Warren County prosecutor’s investigation of him for improper use of public resources for a political campaign by agreeing to pay back the costs of his letter and sending a new one saying he made some inappropriate statements.