COLUMBUS — For the first time Wednesday, Ohioans learned — albeit indirectly — the total additional cost of a much-touted new school-funding plan: nearly $1.5 billion a year.
"If we don’t institute this formula now, the mountain … will grow only more steep and there will be more casualties on the way to the top," said Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, who spearheaded development of the plan with Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima.
Realistically, the duo hopes the new setup gets implemented by mid-2020 to start a six-year phase-in designed to finally satisfy the Ohio Constitution's requirement for the state to provide a "thorough and efficient" public school system.
While the price tag was not overtly spelled out, staffers shared which elements could be added together to achieve a total if the plan were implemented immediately. Not included are possible additional costs resulting from requested studies on special education needs and aiding students from lower-income families.
The 100-minute gathering with reporters and various education advocates Wednesday was called to explain the second version of the Cupp-Patterson plan. Supporters went back to the proverbial drawing board after the initial proposal drew fire for helping richer districts more than poorer ones. The new version is attracting much of the same criticism, although the numbers have improved.
Tom Ash, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, commended lawmakers for including educators and other stakeholders in the process.
The organization strongly supports “the base cost per pupil based on the elements of a quality education. We still need to do some work we think in terms of the distribution,” he said following the briefing.
“When you talk about a district being wealthy, that doesn’t mean that all the kids in the district are wealthy. There could be [higher value] property in there."
A resolution recently adopted by the association’s board refers to the concern, noting that the plan also must include “adequate targeted supplemental assistance for subgroups of students whose education requires additional resources.”
Barb Shaner, representing the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, said, “I don’t know if people have really absorbed all the details. The distribution [to local districts] would be the key.”
For instance, she said, Northern Local School District in Perry County may have more students in poverty despite pockets of property wealth. Since it costs more to educate those children is the district really as well-off as the plan says?
During the briefing it was noted that the district — where a lawsuit resulting in four rulings that Ohio's school funding system was unconstitutional originated in the early 1990s — has much more property wealth today than it did then, including new homes in the Buckeye Lake area.
Already, 66 House members are co-sponsoring the measure. And Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, expressed tentative backing for the new plan.
"There's a chance that we might have a companion to that at some point," he said earlier this week. "I've talked to Rep. Patterson, in particular, both of them, but Rep. Patterson more often, throughout the process. I know he has had at least preliminary discussions with some Senate members about carrying a companion."
Cupp and Patterson had hoped to hold legislative hearings over the summer. But House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, nixed that plan. He said he will work with supporters in coming months to refine the plan further. Committee hearings then would begin in the fall.
The first two years of the plan would cost $770 million.
Cupp, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice, said he believes the proposal meets the requirements of the high court's decisions, which came before he took the bench.
“It calculates the actual cost of an education and applies it to every school district. It ensures that the value of the local property tax base is not the determinant of whether a school district has enough money to provide that quality education that every student is entitled to by the Ohio Constitution,” Cupp said.
“No districts’ education program is going to be dependent on the fact they have a low property tax base because the state will come in and make up the difference to get to that base cost, plus the add-ons that will go with it for special education and disadvantaged student aid.”
Dispatch reporter Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.