June 21, 2024

Will Ohio Get a ‘Fair’ Fix for School Funding?

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Senate passed its version of the state budget yesterday, and education advocates are hopeful lawmakers from both chambers can reach an agreement on a fair fix for the state’s school financing system. 

The current funding formula was declared unconstitutional more than two decades ago. It relies heavily on property taxes, which Math and Social Studies Teacher at the Nathan Hale PreK-8 school in Cleveland Shaunita Thornton said puts poorer districts at a disadvantage.

“Local communities are picking up the larger and larger share of the cost of education,” said Thornton, “because the state funding is inadequate, stagnant and unfairly distributed.”

To add to this, COVID-19 has had a major impact on school funding with boards having to allocate more funding to school cleaning, moving lessons online, and much more.

The Senate’s school funding plan relies on teacher salary, a student teacher ratio and other money to determine per-student aid. 

However, a broad coalition of educators want lawmakers to adopt the House-passed Fair School Funding Plan instead, including Mansfield Middle School 7th grade Teacher Zach Jones.

“The equitable funding found in the House-passed Fair School Funding Plan doesn’t erase the harm caused by the neglect of state lawmakers,” said Jones. “But it begins a process of repairing the damage. It rights the wrong.”

The House plan calculates state aid to districts based on 60% property taxes and 40% income. 

It puts annual per-student costs at $7,200 when fully phased in over six years. The Senate’s plan is for the two-year funding cycle and provides roughly $6,100 per student.

Supporters of the Fair School Funding Plan say it will provide additional aid across all district types, with the biggest increase going to districts where poverty is high and the cost of educating students is the greatest. 

Lima parent active with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative Taylor Pennington, contended that kids in poorer communities have been failed by the school funding system for years.

“How are we preparing our children for a future when our education system is stuck in the past?” asked Pennington. “Everywhere we look, we see change, innovation and progression – everywhere except for our school funding.”

The Fair School Funding Plan was developed with public input over more than three years, while the Senate plan was released just weeks ago. The chambers have until June 30 to reach a compromise on a final budget.

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.