COLUMBUS -- Gov. John Kasich's budget director is hopeful the legislature will move an executive budget school funding proposal that would send less state money to some school districts that have lost students.
The governor has offered comparable law changes in the past, but lawmakers have balked at the move.
But Tim Keen, Director of Ohio's Office of Budget and Management, told reporters Feb. 3, "I think we have the best opportunity we have had in a long time to get this guarantee proposal adopted into law. I think we have targeted it and crafted it in such a way that it just makes sense. If you lost an appreciable number of students, why should we continue to pay you the same amount of money that we previously did?"
Keen offered the comments during an afternoon question-and-answer session with Statehouse reporters, a few days after Kasich rolled out his proposed spending plan for the next two fiscal years.
On Feb. 3, OBM released spreadsheets noting projected funding levels for the state's 600-plus school districts. The numbers aren't set in stone -- they're estimates used as part of the budget process, with actual totals determined later after taking into account local valuations, student enrollment and other factors.
The governor said earlier last week that he is proposing a $200 million increase in funding for primary and secondary schools over the biennium. But that doesn't mean all districts will receive more money next year than they did during the current school year.
Additionally, the governor has proposed lowering the guarantee base districts receive if schools lost more than 5 percent of their student population.
Those that have grown or lost up to 5 percent would be guaranteed the same funding total they are receiving this fiscal year. Those that have lost more than 5 percent would see that guarantee drop to, at most, 95 percent of the current year total.
"Just go out on the street and take a poll of people," Keen said. "This district lost 17 percent of its kids, should we pay it the same amount of money that we did last year? Where else in the world would that happen but in school funding? What would the man on the street say? I think that's the test the members of the general assembly ought to use to judge."
He added, "If there are fewer kids, why are we paying the same amount of money to educate them?"
Keen also said, for many districts projected to see decreases in the formula funding, the totals aren't that large.
Of the 346 districts in that category, 187 would see a decrease of less than $100,000, he said, adding that 71 of those would see a reduction of less than $5,000.
"A lot of these numbers are very small," he said.
Falls, Woodridge school leaders offer thoughts
The Cuyahoga Falls City School District is currently receiving $15,355,832 in the 2016-17 school year. Under the proposed state budget, they are slated to get $16,116,371 in the 2017-18 school year (a 5 percent increase) and $16,571,209 (a 2.8 percent increase) in the 2018-19 school year.
While not offering comments on the amounts the district is projected to receive, Cuyahoga Falls City School District Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols noted that the announced $200 million increase in statewide funding "is more than offset by another reduction in Tangible Personal Property reimbursement amounting to $240 million over the biennium and additional funds for charters and vouchers."
He added that the additional amount "does not offset inflation."
Other aspects of the spending plan highlighted by Nichols included: school transportation is cut by more than 12 percent; Career Tech educational enhancements are cut by 33 percent; Charter facilities fund is increased from $17.2 million to $18 million each year; and special education enhancements are reduced by $11 million.
"How the details ultimately impact our bottom line remains to be seen," said Nichols.
The Woodridge Local School District is receiving $1,444,133 in state money during the 2016-17 school year. Under the proposed state budget, it appears the district is slated to receive $1,512,797 in state money during the 2017-18 school year (a 4.8 percent increase) and $1,586, 224 during the 2018-19 school year (a 4.9 percent increase).
While noting officials welcome any increase in funding, Woodridge Local School District Superintendent Walter Davis said "we are also extremely cautious about getting too excited about proposals until the final budget is agreed to. We have seen this sort of thing before, only to learn later that caps, deductions, and guarantees eliminate any apparent windfalls that the original proposals may reflect."
Davis added that Woodridge receives less state funding "than all but only a handful of districts" in the state. He noted an "over-reliance" on a district's property value to determine state funding has created an "inequity that has plagued our district over the years." The district's only alternative under the current system is "to rely heavily on our local taxpayers to keep our district afloat," said Davis.
"We continue to advocate for reform as we work with our professional organizations and our legislators to find more equitable ways to fund public education," said Davis.
Editor's note: Editor Phil Keren and Reporter Steve Wiandt contributed to this story. Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.