Last Updated: April 28, 2012
This article appeared in the April 2012 Rural Policy Matters.
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In May, the Ohio State House of Delegates Finance Committee will begin a series of hearings that could last as long as a year to gather data to create a new school finance system in the state. Legislators have said they hope to have a proposal in place by early 2013 in time for the next biennial education budget.
Since taking office in 2011, Governor John Kasich has committed to replacing outgoing Governor Ted Strickland’s “evidence-based” funding model, saying it had too many unfunded mandates and not enough emphasis in classroom needs. That “evidence-based” model would have required that the state select and fund only educational methods that are supported by research on best practices.
The Strickland formula was to be implemented over a ten-year period, beginning in 2008. Since then, the formula has never been fully funded, and allocations have been based on the previous year’s budget. Most districts have also had funding cuts, including $780 million which was cut from the current biennial budget. Governor Kasich initially promised a quick reform process but has since backed off that promise, noting that a strong plan takes time to develop.
Legislators may be feeling an increased sense of urgency to work on the school finance system after the release earlier this month of a study of the nation’s 39 state-funded preschool programs that ranked Ohio last in per-child funding. The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) report stated that funding for preschool in Ohio has been cut by more than one-third since 2009.
Ohio’s school finance system was originally challenged in court by rural school districts because of its overreliance on local property taxes and property wealth, which caused extreme disparities from county to county. Those inequities were a factor in four Ohio Supreme Court rulings that found the previous school funding system unconstitutional. Wealthy districts still maintain that they are unfairly penalized by the system. Although some school leaders from small and rural schools have seen some reduction in the reliance on property taxes, they say that the system remains unconstitutional and that students across the state still do not have equal educational opportunities.
Local coverage on the legislative committee’s plans:
Editorial urging funding reform:
Resource site on Ohio school finance containing background and links to most recent coverage of the issue:
Story on NIEER report:
Read more from the April 2012 Rural Policy Matters.