Ohio Senate leader hints at changes being made to education funding in its two-year budget plan
Ohio senators have been holding hearings on the two-year state operating budget and are making changes to the version the House passed. The leader of the Senate told reporters Wednesday morning some of those changes could involve how schools are funded in Ohio.
The Ohio House version fully funded the "Fair School Funding Plan," a bipartisan school funding formula Ohio lawmakers passed in the former General Assembly. That plan is designed to make sure schools are funded properly while reducing reliance on property tax. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has hinted the Senate may have made some changes to what the House proposed to increase stability.
"We've done some innovative things ... to really clarify school funding to make sure it is a predictable system going forward," Huffman said. "And what we have discovered is some of the things that we have done in the past are not predictable and I think are going to be a bit of a disaster for some of the school districts in the future," Huffman said.
Huffman said guarantees that were made to some school districts to make sure they didn't lose revenue from the previous method of funding need scrutiny.
"The EdChoice voucher program formerly had money paid to a school district per child,” he explained. “Some districts get $500 a child. Some districts get $12,000. And the money would be paid to the district and somebody would qualify for an EdChoice voucher and the state would say, OK, school district, write this $4,000 check for this student who you got money for but they are not attending their school. Well, what that meant was some school districts were losing money. 'You only gave us $500 but I had to write a $4,000 check for this child.' There were some other school districts that would be paid $12,000 by the state but they would only write a $4,000 check and they were making money off of it," Huffman said.
Huffman said the state decided to pay the school receiving the voucher directly. But he said the school districts that were getting money from that former pass-through system were held harmless in previous budgets. That's the kind of situation Huffman said senators need to address now.
"Those are the kinds of guarantees, supplements, side deals and things like that, that get into these plans but don't really have anything to do with the costs of the schools so I think that's one of the things that needs to come out," Huffman said.
Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said she's worried when she hears Huffman's explanation, especially when expansion of Ohio's school voucher program is likely part of the plan.
"Vouchers are here to stay in the state of Ohio," Antonio said. "However, it should never be at the cost to the public schools. And fully funding our public schools and making sure we are not creating two tiers of education models in the state of Ohio — that's really a big concern for me and our caucus."
Antonio said it's important to remember the reason for some of that funding, which may appear unnecessary to some lawmakers.
"There are children behind every one of those dollars and the guarantees often are about kids who need special additional services — whether English as a Second Language; whether they have special needs," Antonio explained. "And so school districts, while they are in the business of educating and serving our children, have to be able to do it with a fully funded program."
Huffman said the Senate budget, set to be out June 6, will also include tax cuts for Ohioans. He expects senators to vote on the plan around mid-June. And while he won't give specifics about it, he said he thinks the budget the Senate comes up with "will be very difficult for any Republican to vote no on."