Kasich schools team prepares to defend new formula

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Gov. John Kasich’s education team is setting out to defend a new school funding formula that left many districts, including some of the state’s poorest, surprised at the lack of added cash.

Richard Ross, director of the Governor’s Office of 21st Century Education, said he would present to the budget-writing Ohio House Finance Committee on Wednesday figures that prove the newly proposed equation delivers on the Republican governor’s promise to help poor districts the most.

“We have some charts to illustrate that low-income schools actually get significantly more resources than higher wealth schools,” Ross said Tuesday. “Personally, as we talked about it when it was presented on the philosophical basis, I think conceptually school districts liked what they heard.”

Then came release of new district-by-district funding breakdowns.

The eagerly anticipated spreadsheets were to be the first significant adjustments to state subsidies that Ohio schools had seen in five years. Sixty percent of districts’ allotments turned out to be flat. Superintendents were shocked, some were livid.

Kasich’s Achievement Everywhere plan sends $1.2 billion more overall to K-12 public school districts over the two-year budget cycle beginning July 1. That included a nearly 6 percent increase in fiscal year 2014 and 3.2 percent more the next year.

The proposal brings all schools up to the tax base level of a district with $250,000 in property value per student – the 96th percentile of districts statewide – to ease wide disparities in millage revenues from local levies. Add-ons are provided to account for the number of poor students, English-language learners, gifted students and other special categories.

And another $300 million is set aside in a Straight A fund, which will deliver grants to districts for innovation and efficiency measures.

The Ohio 8, a coalition of superintendents and teacher union presidents from the state’s eight big-city districts, said in a statement that it’s still reviewing the proposal but an initial analysis suggests “room for improvement.”

“We are concerned about potential new restrictions and/or mandates related to funding and significant policy proposals,” said a joint statement from Akron Superintendent David James and Cleveland Teachers Union chief David Quolke.

Ross’ presentation Wednesday was to emphasize that the new formula funnels the largest amount of money – 27 percent of what Ohio spends – to the state’s 14 large urban districts, or about $5,500 per student over the biennium. By contrast, the per-pupil amount of the wealthiest 20 percent is about $1,500.

More than 60 percent of money goes to poorer districts.

Administration estimates Ross was to present show the 20 percent of districts with the lowest property values after the big-city districts gets the next largest amount – more than $2.3 billion, or 18 percent of the total – over two years. Successively wealthier quintiles, representing 20 percent each, receive a successively smaller share of the total, ending with 8.7 percent of funding for the wealthiest 20 percent.

Adjusted on a per-pupil basis, the administration says, the story is the same.

According to administration calculations, the amount the 14 large urban districts are receiving per student is well above the state average, while the per-pupil funding for the wealthiest districts is well below the state average.

Ross said any new formula was bound to come with growing pains, including adjustments for significant shifts in enrollment numbers and property values since the state has been without a new formula.

The formula ties money more closely to students rather than districts, he said.