Calling the new plan rational and transparent, one that directs money based on student needs, developers of the latest revamp of school funding are making big promises about its impact similar to what school leaders have heard before.
But they insist, this is different.
"We have tried so many times before to get it right. Now is the time we can make it happen," said Ellen McWilliams-Woods, Akron City Schools assistant superintendent and member of the committee that crafted a new formula that, if passed, would determine how billions of dollars are distributed to Ohio schools.
The latest proposed revamp of Ohio’s funding formula was developed by a committee of 16 superintendents and treasurers led by Reps. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and John Patterson, D-Jefferson, focused on doing what hasn’t been seen since Gov. Ted Strickland unveiled his "evidence-based model" a decade ago — determine the true cost of an education.
"The charge that we made to all those participating was to consider what our students truly need to succeed in this rapidly changing world," said Cupp, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice. "Our current funding formula, forged in the last recession, is seriously flawed."
Currently only 18 percent of districts are getting the funding amount that the formula prescribes. The rest are artificially getting more or less.
"That is the definition of a formula that is not working," said Mike Sobul, a consultant for the committee and treasurer of Granville Schools.
How much will the new plan cost? What will individual districts get? Cupp and Patterson said they will reveal those numbers Friday. They did say they hope to phase in the proposal over four years, and during that time, no district would get less funding than they currently receive.
Asked if there is enough money in DeWine’s proposed two-year budget to pay for the plan, Patterson said, "The question is, do we have the will to fund what we really need to fund if we truly believe that every student ought to have a chance to succeed? This is an investment in Ohio."
The proposal, based on months of work, attempts to correct flaws in the current funding formula that, critics say, don’t properly account for taxpayer income levels, appear to discriminate against rural districts, and can cause funding fluctuations for districts even if their economic situations remain largely unchanged.
The formula is incomprehensible to most, but the new proposal would allocate money based on "actual needs" and is both understandable and can be updated over time, McWilliams-Woods said.
"This isn’t just a funding formula," she said. "The funding drives our success in education. It’s not about the dollars and cents. It’s about the quality services we are providing in our schools."
For example, the plan would use an average teacher salary and fund schools based on specified ratios, for most grades ranging from 23 to 27 students per teacher.
Sobul, who has seen many school-funding revamps and many big promises over the years, thinks this plan is different.
"It’s being built from the bottom up. It’s really being designed by treasurers and superintendents," he said. "Prior efforts came from the top down, and there’s been skepticism in the school community because they’re not really involved."
He added: "I think this is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, putting money in the right places."
The revamped plan would calculate a base cost for education and then determine how much a local district is responsible to fund via local levies and income tax. That local share would be based 60 percent on property values and 40 percent on a district’s income. It is not yet known how that would shake out across 610 diverse districts.
The plan also calls for directly funding charter schools, rather than subtracting the funds from the traditional public school school districts where a child lives. Leaders of traditional schools have argued for years that the current model robs them of millions local tax revenue that flows to charter schools.
The latest plan was introduced nearly 22 years to the day of the first of four state Supreme Court decisions that labeled Ohio’s school-funding setup unconstitutional. For decades, critics have questioned whether Ohio policymakers provide schools enough funding and properly distribute that money to satisfy the Ohio constitution’s requirement for the state to provide a "thorough and efficient" education.
The proposal calls for a $150 per pupil increase for students from families living in poverty, a 55 percent increase over the current total. Patterson called that number a placeholder as more debate occurs throughout the budget process.
Patterson said the formula also provides funding so every poor child can attend a high-quality preschool.
Ohio has a consistent achievement gap based on poverty. On the latest state report cards, of the 145 Ohio school districts scoring an A or B for performance index, which measures test scores, only four had a population of low-income students higher than the state average.
Earlier this month Gov. Mike DeWine rolled out a school funding plan as part of his two-year operating budget that did not alter the formula. It called for another $250 million to schools in 2020 based on student poverty concentrations, plus an additional $50 million in 2021.
Lawmakers have said DeWine’s funding priorities mesh with what they are trying to accomplish. Monday, DeWine said he asked lawmakers to keep his poverty-based funding separate from their formula changes.
Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper called the plan a step toward fixing the state’s broken funding system.
"Our current school funding formula is deeply flawed and unconstitutional in its reliance on property taxes," she said. "As more details are made available, we’ll be following closely to ensure that no school districts in Ohio are left behind as the funding formula changes."