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Kasich prepares for battle over school funding

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Next year, half of Ohio’s public schools will see their budget cut. Athens City School District will see almost $526,000 cut from its budget and others will see more than millions in funding dry up over the next couple years. At the same time, the governor’s proposed budget allocates an additional $700 million for K-12 education.

The two changes stem from the Kasich administration’s push to restructure how Ohio schools are funded — a system that was declared unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1997.

Yes, there are schools that will see a loss in funds. These schools are almost entirely located in affluent suburbs and are the better-performing of the state’s school districts. The money lost from their funding will instead be allocated for poor districts, most of which are located in the inner city and impoverished rural areas. These schools cannot afford lots of local taxes to support the schools as some wealthier areas can, said Kasich spokesperson Jim Lynch.

“We are continuing to perfect our work on the school funding formula so that it works the way it was intended,” Lynch said.

He added that even though the makeup of school districts has changed over the years, funding levels have not.

“You have to look at three components: how have incomes changed, how have property values changed and how have student populations changed,” Lynch said. “For decades, there have been funding guarantees that have remained in place even though things have changed.”

One such school district that will see a decrease in funding is Grandview Heights, located just outside of Columbus. The district is set to see its funding drop from $2,330,270 this year to $1,339,435 in 2017 — a 42.5 percent difference.

Funding to schools in wealthier suburban areas will be cut if Gov. Kasich’s new budget is approved. | Graph courtesy of the Ohio Department of Education.

 

The state government is arguing that Grandview Heights, a wealthy neighborhood that has seen its student population drop over the past decade, does not need as much financial support from the state.

Although Grandview will lose a larger percentage of its budget than any other district, other schools will be losing more money. Lakota Schools, located outside of Cincinnati, will have $5.9 million shaved from its budget.

However, school districts within many of Ohio’s main cities that have historically struggled will receive increases in funding.

Columbus City Schools will receive a funding increase of $40.7 million over the next two years. Dayton is next with a $28.4 million increase. Schools in Cincinnati and Cleveland will gain an additional $17.1 million and $5.6 million, respectively.

Guaranteed reductions are limited to 1 percent of “available state and local resources,” which includes money that comes from local taxes, tangible property taxes and state aid. While some cuts may look big, such as Grandview’s, they are actually just a small part of the district’s available resources.

“We can all agree that is reasonable,” Lynch said.

For example, Athens City Schools has 28 percent of its budget sitting in a bank as part of the district’s rainy day fund.

School districts set to see their budgets shrink have already begun to raise concerns about the new budget. Kasich and his administration are prepared for a fight, or “squawking,” as the governor calls it.

“We’ve had some superintendents, by the way, who I think in their comments have been irresponsible,” Kasich said at a press conference earlier in February. “We need more superintendents who are educators and less superintendents who are politicians.”

Thomas Gibbs, the associate superintendent for the Athens City School District, said he has reservations about the plan, particularly the reduction in tangible property taxes. But Gibbs also said the plan that Kasich hope to roll out will most likely undergo major changes between now and July, when the budget is finalized.

“Every two years we go through this cycle: the proposal gets made, some districts are happy and some aren’t, and changes are made,” Gibbs said. “I’ve been doing this for twenty-plus years, and I’ve never seen what was introduced in January be the same thing that was approved in July.”

Kasich also plans to increase funding for vouchers. The program allows students in poor performing schools to transfer to better districts, but these students take state funding with them. With each student that changes schools, funding is lost by poorer school districts.

“The governor supports school choice, and helping those trapped in poor-performing school districts,” Lynch said. “Kasich thinks that all of Ohio’s children deserve more and he’s going to fight for them.”

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