LIMA — Bob Cupp and Matt Huffman appear to have a lot in common. Both are seasoned politicians from Lima. Both lead a chamber of the Ohio Legislature, with Cupp leading the House and Huffman leading the Senate.
When it comes to their school funding, they see the world in vastly different ways.
Huffman said Ohio’s Senate will soon introduce its own version of a school funding proposal that could result in less funding for many districts.
“Why should you get more state money because you already have plenty of money to educate your child — in fact, a lot of local real estate money, federal money, a lot of money from private foundations?” Huffman said. “It’s a tremendous amount of money. If the answer is everyone must always get more money, even a reasonable person should say they’ve already got plenty of money.”
Huffman said funding for kindergarten through 12th-grade education has increased 116% from 1997 — the year the Ohio Supreme Court declared Ohio’s funding system unconstitutional — to 2020, when inflation only went up 60.25% in that time. In that same time period, the state spent $12.57 billion on building or renovating 1,240 schools, including all schools updated or built new in 303 districts, roughly half of Ohio’s public school districts.
Despite Huffman’s concerns, Cupp said he hopes the Senate approves the funding proposal the Ohio House put into its biennial budget. That system builds a base cost per student to educate children, based off 20 years of data, Cupp said. The proposed system promises not to cut a district’s funding below its current levels for at least the first six years while the plan phases into full implementation.
“This creates a methodology for determining what amount is appropriate and needed to fund equal education for every district in the state,” Cupp said.
He acknowledges the state’s current system, hindered by guaranteed and capped levels of state aid, is broken and needs help, which is why the career public servant started working on a plan several years ago along with Democratic Rep. John Patterson.
“What they’re going to find is there is not really a better plan out there,” Cupp said. “This is the only plan that is actually do-able. We’ve spent over 25 years working on this, exploring many options and methods.”
Huffman said he expected the Senate’s plan, set to be introduced soon, to keep some parts of the current House plan. Both agreed a key change involved people who attend private or community schools and those getting vouchers, to send the money connected to those students directly to the school where the child is educated. A switch to “enrollment daily average membership” avoids accounting problems and extra hardships to districts where people live but the children don’t attend school there.
“One of the problems is some school districts were losing money on this,” Huffman said. “The way they look at it is, ‘Hey, we’re only getting $2,000 a kid, but you’re taking $6,000 out of our check for that kid who doesn’t go to school here.’”
A decision should be coming soon. Ohio must have its general funding bill passed by the end of June. Cupp said local school districts deserve to have more predictable school funding in the future.
“One of the important features is the ability to calculate what they would likely get under the formula,” he said. “This predictability and stability and transparency is important when administrating systems as important as our school districts. The level of support we’ve had all across Ohio has been tremendous.”