By Doug Livingston

The governorís office on Thursday rolled out an early description of its plan to redefine funding for Ohio schools, but the description was short on numbers.

The most significant change will occur in the way the state calculates how much money should be raised in each district, but questions about the impact on local districts and voters were unanswered.

Asked if the new plan will require property owners to ante up more money, Dick Ross, the governorís lead education advisor, said, ďI donít understand the question.Ē

The proposal provides for increases for privately run, publicly funded charter schools and for parochial and non-parochial schools, but the impact on traditional public schools was difficult to determine.

While Barbara Mattei-Smith, an education policy advisor in the governorís office, said ďformula fundingĒ for education will increase 6 percent in the first year of the two-year budget and 3.2 percent in the second year, she was not specific as to who will receive the money and for what services.

The governorís office held off additional questioning until a town hall meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon, one of many meeting during which the governor is rolling out the funding changes. Itís not likely that the line-item spending will be available until the governor unveils the complete budget on Monday.

The governorís office touts that the plan would bring equity to the state funding model, which exhibits disparities between rich and poor districts. It appears that almost all districts will be required to ratchet up funding to match that of the most affluent districts, which have property valuation of $250,000 or more per pupil.

Nineteen public school districts fell into this property-rich designation in fiscal year 2011, including Revere and Nordonia Hills.

The governorís office said there will be state help for districts with lower property values and adjustments for household income. Those details were expected to be released over the next few days.

Ross said no district will see a reduction in state aid in the first year ó known as a funding guarantee ó but added that the guarantee cannot be sustained.

Expansion of school choice

The budget also details a potentially explosive expansion of the stateís voucher system. Currently, children must have special needs or attend an academically failing district. The new plan will open vouchers to any family whose income is less than 200 percent of the poverty level. In the first year, $8.5 million will be available for enrollment in kindergarten. The number will double the second year as first grade is included.

The poverty guideline opens the door for 1.2 million children statewide who would qualify, according to child poverty statistics from the Annie E. Casey Foundation data center.

Also, students attending districts that have failed to make gains in kindergarten through third grade literacy would be eligible.

The Department of Education currently spends $126 million annually on vouchers for more than 19,000 students, not counting students who receive vouchers in the Cleveland Scholarship program, funded by $11.9 million from Cleveland Municipal Schools.

The $8.5 million expansion in the first year represents a 7 percent increase in allocations for vouchers. Based on the average voucher cost of $5,997, the additional funding could afford scholarships for more than 2,800 children by the end of the budget cycle in 2015.

The budget also expands funding for charter schools, adding an additional $100 per pupil for facility improvements at the privately operated alternative schools. Thatís an additional $11.9 million for charter schools based on the Beacon Journalís projection of 2011-2012 student enrollment figures.

Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com.