As Andrea Kidder talks to her Tallmadge neighbors about why they should vote for a school levy next week, her message focuses on how the district will spend their property tax dollars.

Why Tallmadge receives the amount of money it does from the state is not on her list of talking points.

“It’s something I’ve just never questioned,” Kidder said. The district gets what it gets, she added, and it didn’t seem worth dissecting how the sausage is made.

It could soon be easier for Ohio parents and district leaders alike to understand why they receive the money they do, allowing for better planning and advocacy for the needs of students.

School leaders have long argued the Ohio state funding formula for distributing money to local districts is an enigma, not to mention the Ohio Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.

As the legislature mulls a massive overhaul of the funding formula with the proposed Fair School Funding Plan, many questions remain, including how much money some larger districts would lose after 2021 when a funding guarantee no longer exists.

Whether it will make it out of the legislature this year is also unclear, as it was left out of the latest draft of the biennial budget on Thursday.

If the latest version of the plan passes, however, parents could stand to benefit beyond just the dollar amount increases that some districts, including many in Summit County, would see.

“Ohio has one of the most complex local funding contribution calculations in the country,” said Rebecca Sibilia, the executive director of EdBuild, a national group that advocates for school funding reforms.

A complex formula, she said, “obscures the ability to hold the legislature accountable” and leaves the possibility of small tweaks skewing funding toward wealthier districts with expert personnel on hand to lobby for such changes.

The Ohio funding redesign, led by Reps. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and John Patterson, D-Jefferson, aims to create a simpler formula, weighted for the needs of students in each district.

The compounding benefits of that, Sibilia said, is a straightforward understanding of why a district is given a certain amount of money, and the ability for district leaders to plan ahead.

That could be advantageous for parents who want to push for certain programs or personnel to be added to their school. Assuming no additional major legislative overhauls of the system, which has seen many tweaks over the last decade, districts would have the ability to plan three to five years into the future.

That’s a significant increase from the current two years of confidence Akron Public Schools Treasurer and CFO Ryan Pendleton has in his budget.

Pendleton, one of the school leaders who helped create the Fair School Funding Plan, said the current funding mechanism is a mystery even for financial experts.

“Nobody knows what the current formula buys you,” Pendleton said.

Both the current and the proposed new formulas take into account a district’s population of students in poverty as well as English language learners and students receiving special education services.

The new version, however, changes the extra money each district receives from a set dollar amount to a percentage of the state base paid per student.

That way, if the base amount grows, the amount of money for a student in poverty would grow proportionately as well.

Akron would see its state funding go from more than $155.8 million this school school to nearly $161.7 million in 2020-21, an increase of more than $5.8 million, or 3.7 percent.

While that’s just about $150 per student, Pendleton said districts and school boards will be able to work with the legislature to fund certain issues, like technology or safety, that affect all schools.

School boards, he said, will have “a clear understanding of how they can create influence.”

Some legislators have balked at the plan, as a handful of large urban districts with high concentrations of students in poverty, particularly those with declining enrollment, could lose money after 2021. If they wanted to make up those dollars, they would have to raise additional local funds, putting additional strain on low-income areas.

Matt Richmond, chief programs officer for EdBuild, said it’s too soon to say whether that fact alone means a formula striving for equity is already falling apart.

“Any changes that are made at this scale are going to have positives and they’re going to have negatives, and they’re going to need to be balanced against each other,” Richmond said. “And at this point we don’t have enough information to know how many are in each column.”

 

Contact Jennifer Pignolet at 330-996-3216, jpignolet@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter @JenPignolet.