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Published: Friday, 2/8/2013

OHIO EDUCATION

Kasich funding formula favors suburban schools; TPS, other urban districts, mostly flat under governor's plan

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Preliminary breakdowns of how Gov. John Kasich’s new school-funding formula will affect school districts show that growing, relatively wealthier suburban districts in metro Toledo will receive significant increases in funds next year, while state funding for struggling Toledo Public Schools stays flat.

The funding estimates, released Wednesday, surprised many local superintendents since they seemed to run contrary to how Mr. Kasich and his staff presented the new formula last week. The governor and administration members focused during a presentation to superintendents on how the formula accounts for local property values, income levels, the number of students with disabilities, student poverty rates, and other criteria, leaving some superintendents and treasurers expecting high-poverty urban districts to fare well.

Instead, the governor’s philosophy to have funding “follow the student” means those high-poverty districts, which generally have lost students in recent years, will receive small or in some cases no increases in funding next year, while some wealthy districts will see new pots of money. While the winners under the formula were pleased, the guarded optimism expressed last week from others quickly turned to disappointment.

RELATED CONTENT: A preliminary look at the numbers for every district

“This is definitely not consistent with what we expected to see following the governor’s presentation last week,” TPS Treasurer Matt Cleland said.

Jerome Pecko, TPS superintendent, was at the governor’s presentation last week, and had hopes for possible major funding increases that would make local property levies unnecessary in the near future. Those hopes were dashed Wednesday.

“Whatever that formula was [that was presented last week], it certainly has not done what I anticipated it was going to do,” he said.

No district will lose state money next year under the formula. Overall, basic aid to schools would increase 6 percent in the first year of the two-year budget and 3.2 percent in the second. In all, the amount of state funds funneled through the new basic aid for schools would be $6.2 billion in fiscal year 2014, beginning July 1, and $6.4 billion the following budget year. Total general revenue spending after factoring in extras such as the proposed $300 million incentive fund to be $7.4 billion and $7.7 billion, respectively.

But since funding is tied to where students are — instead of past district funding levels — districts with growing enrollment or those who saw rapid property valuation declines get much more than 6 percent. State funds for Springfield Local Schools, for instance, would increase nearly 40 percent under the proposal in Fiscal Year 2014. Ottawa Hills would get an increase of 25 percent, as would Perrysburg. The Rossford district would get nearly 50 percent more in state funds.

Even superintendents of districts that get more money were confused.

“When the governor talked about what he wanted us to do, the concept seemed to be about increasing funding to lower-income districts,” Perrysburg Superintendent Tom Hosler said. “I’m looking through the information here, and I can’t get a sense that that is the overarching trend.”

Still, the new funding for some districts came as a pleasant surprise, though superintendents said they’ll wait until the proposal becomes more concrete.

“Obviously we are pleased with the increase, if that actually becomes reality,” Springfield Superintendent Kathryn Hott said. “That would certainly help us in Springfield.”

Democrats had already objected last week that the school proposal does not provide the restorative funding they sought to undo severe cuts schools sustained during the current two-year budget. Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon) said Democrats will work to change the funding proposal’s methodology.

“Flat funding for Toledo Public School District on the heels of the significant cuts absorbed as a result of the 2010 budget are simply unacceptable,” he said of the first year funding proposal for the district. “It’s not good enough to simply say we’re not going to cut further.”

Toledo Public Schools would get a $7.6 million increase in state funds in Fiscal Year 2015, or nearly 4 percent, though it’s also unclear how the district’s actual operating budget would be affected, since funding for charter schools and vouchers come from those funds.

Barbara Matteri-Smith, assistant state policy director for education, said funding gains for schools that have seen massive student growth would have been even larger — since many of those have had major property value declines in recent years — but the formula purposefully capped their increases. And she noted that the governor’s decision to guarantee current funding levels for districts even if they’ve lost students stemmed potentially significant cuts in state funding.

“Even after those increases [for growing districts], low-wealth districts still receive the largest proportional share of state funds,” she said.

That guarantee, however, will eventually phase out, Mr. Kasich has said.

The data provided Wednesday are an estimate and incomplete, since such categories as transportation funding or money for career technology programs were not included. How vouchers and charter schools will affect individual schools districts are also unclear.

Mr. Kasich’s proposal would expand the number of students who could apply for state-funded scholarships, or vouchers, to attend the public, private, or religious schools of their parents’ choice. For the first time, any student entering kindergarten at any school — even in high performing districts — whose family income is double the federal poverty level could receive a voucher. It would add first graders the second year.

Students in Washington Local, despite an excellent rating on school report cards, now would be eligible for vouchers. Treasurer Jeff Fouke, whose district would receive less than $3,000 per student in state funds next year, questioned why the state is willing to pay up to $4,250 for that same student to attend a private school.

“They shouldn’t be receiving more dollars than a public school,” he said.

Mr. Fouke also said that the missing data provide a misleading picture for how much more money districts actually will receive under the proposal. And besides, he said, what lawmakers pass and the governor eventually enacts may be significantly different than what has been proposed.

“What’s proposed and what's final are always two different things,” he said.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com, or 419-724-6086.



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