House Speaker Larry Householder picked up a piece of paper with photocopied newspaper articles on each side.
On one side is a story from March 15, 2001, where the leader of the coalition of schools suing the state over its funding system praised Householder’s new $3 billion funding plan, agreeing to drop the landmark lawsuit if it passed.
On the other side is a Columbus Dispatch front page printed five days later, with a screaming headline, “School Plan Dead.”
“We made it a whole five days before the old boys stuck a fork in us,” said Householder, R-Glenford.
Fast-forward 18 years to Householder’s second stint as speaker, and once again he would like to make bold moves to fix a school-funding formula that is so off-kilter that only 18 percent of districts are even getting the amount of money the formula says they should receive.
“I see the same problems we had when I walked in here in 2001,” Householder said.
But the big fixes may wait for two years.
Reps. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and John Patterson, D-Jefferson, met with a group of school officials for more than a year to develop a complete revamp of the funding formula that would cost $1.1 billion more during the two-year budget cycle. The hope was to put it into the two-year state budget, which is expected to get House changes later this week before it's moved to the Senate.
But that’s probably not going to happen.
“I think Cupp-Patterson needs a lot more work,” Householder said. “I don’t think it can be done in the time frame for this budget.”
The plan prices out what a typical education should cost and eliminates the current caps on funding increases.
Over two years, the plan would mean a $280 increase per pupil on average for districts with student poverty rates of at least 60 percent. Meanwhile, the increase is $392 per pupil for districts with poverty concentration of less than 15 percent. Several big urban districts get little or no additional money.
For Householder, that means more new money for districts that, thanks to local tax revenue, are already funded at an “excellent level,” while less is going to schools where kids have “tons of disadvantages.” That, he said, compounds a revenue imbalance that already exists between poor and wealthy districts.
“It’s going to create a funding system that’s going to bring a greater amount of inequity between school districts,” Householder said. “And there’s no way that it doesn’t.”
Householder credited Cupp and Patterson for doing a "tremendous amount of work" on the plan, and he likes that it’s less complex and tries to determine the cost of an adequate education, something that no one has tried for a decade.
But, Householder said, the teacher-pupil ratio used as a key component for funding — from 20-to-1 in kindergarten to 27-to-1 in high school — doesn’t work for all districts.
“Those numbers might work fine in New Albany. But when you go into your urban and rural disadvantaged school districts, there’s no way,” he said.
Householder said his wife is a veteran teacher at New Lexington schools in Perry County, and “the social issues she deals with on a given day is extraordinary,” he said. “A lot of these kids don’t even have parents.”
The idea was to develop the Cupp-Patterson plan outside the budget process and introduce it in late November of last year, allowing time to review and tweak it prior to the budget’s introduction in mid-March.
But participants struggled to work out issues with the new formula and questions about total cost. A contentious fight over who would be the next House speaker, one that divided both the Democratic and Republican caucuses, also muddied the process.
The proposal was not released until late March, more than a week after Gov. Mike DeWine introduced his two-year operating budget. DeWine did not mess with the current funding formula, but advocates giving schools an additional $250 million next year, distributed based on poverty concentrations, plus another $50 million in 2021 for wrap-around services such as after-school programs and counseling.
Like he stood by Householder’s plan 18 years ago, William Phillis, longtime leader of the Ohio Coalition of Equity and Adequacy, said the Cupp-Patterson plan “has the potential of changing the course of public education in Ohio.” The plan proposes spending about $1.1 billion more over two years, twice the cost of DeWine’s proposal.
But Householder said the House budget changes will be closer to what the governor has proposed, sticking, for now, with the current formula, with more money targeted toward low-income students.
He also said the House is looking at a state school-bus-purchasing program, providing funding on a sliding scale based on district wealth. Householder said older buses are costly to operate and a safety issue for students.
Down the road, Householder said, “Ohio is going to have to get a little more creative in how we fund our schools. We’re going to have to look at some type of statewide measure.”
He didn’t know yet it that meant a statewide property tax or something else.
He also said it’s time to explore creating three or four funding formulas, rather than trying to find one system for Ohio’s diverse mix of 610 districts.
“If all we had to do was worry about poor, rural school districts, we could fix that in a heartbeat," he said. "But we’ve got everything under the sun in Ohio.”
Jim Siegel can be reached at email@example.com and @phrontpage.