Proposed school funding plan must start over

By David J. Coehrs -

A proposed $2 billion, six-year state school funding plan stalled in the Ohio Senate in December has to start from scratch in the new year.

The Fair School Funding Plan (FSFP), developed last year as House Bill 305 and Senate Bill 376 respectively, requires a do-over after Senate members failed to pursue its passage of SB 376 before the year ended. HB 305 passed handily on Dec. 4.

And because both entities are welcoming new legislators elected in November, it’s likely the former bills will be tweaked somewhat before their re-introductions and possible inclusion in the state’s biennium budget.

Developed over three years by state school administrators and funding experts, FSFP would determine a base cost for educating a student based on school district demographics; shared funding in which taxpayers would foot a 60/40 split between property valuation and income; and categorized funding to determine exact costs of programs and educations for disadvantaged and gifted students, and those with disabilities.

FSFP would also directly fund charter and STEM schools and state voucher programs.

Now, with the advent of the new year, the plan will probably be reintroduced in February with possible changes and under different bill numbers.

State school funding has been called a haphazard proposition at best since ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court through the DeRolph case of 1997. Sponsored by legislators Bob Cupp and John Patterson, FSFP gained the support of several educational organizations who, in a joint letter, described the plan as “a school funding system that meets the needs of all Ohio’s students in the 21st century.”

District 2 Senator Theresa Gavarone expects that FSFP may become part of Ohio’s new biennium budget, which would be enacted in 2022. She said the state Senate will hold a caucus retreat this week that will include discussion of the plan.

Gavarone said FSFB was held off because the Senate needed more time to study the bill after it was passed by the House.

“It was a big change in policy and how we do funding, and then, looking at it without considering the rest of the budget was problematic for members. I think they wanted to make sure we’re looking at the big picture,” she said.

“School funding absolutely needs to be looked at in the way we’re doing things. We need to make sure schools have the resources they need to give our kids the education that they and their families deserve. I know it’s a priority. I’m sure we’re going to be diving deep into this.”

District 81 State Representative Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) agrees the school funding system is broken and needs to be discussed.

“We decided in the House to put the formula together and at least get that in, and then gradually, if money becomes available, use it for education funding,” he said. “Now, because Senate didn’t take it up, it has to start all over again. The bill itself – the language – may be tweaked a little bit but reintroduced in the House.”

The House is in the preliminary stages of reintroducing the bill in February. Hoops said because Speaker of the House Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman are both from Allen County and long acquainted “I would hope they’ll be able to work something out.”

The present state school funding formula is simply a temporary fix, Hoops said.

“If there was an issue out there they would change the law a little bit,” he said. “But when you start doing that…it’s kind of like when you get rid of a problem over here (and) another one pops up over here, and over the years…you put a Band-Aid on everything and it becomes, really challenging with the school funding issue.”

Hoops said he favors FSFP but the challenge is finding state dollars to support it. “Unlike the federal government, we have to balance our budget, and you have other needs out there too, besides education,” he said.

The biennium budget, scheduled to activate in 2022, must be in place by July 1.

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.