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Ohio Senators Say New Budget An Improvement For Schools

Ohio Senators are calling their new budget plan "a work in progress" but they are touting it as a major improvement in funding for public schools. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles takes a first look at the numbers being proposed and files this report.

Ohio Senate President Keith Faber says his members have made funding for K-12 public education in Ohio a top priority in this budget.  He says it dedicates nearly three quarters of a billion dollars more for schools over the next two years.

Faber – The numbers are even larger when you consider the total education spend but that 717 million is just direct aid to school districts, Ohio’s public school districts, making it the largest of any general assembly commitment in the last decade.

Republican State Senator Chris Widener says the basic amount the state spends per pupil in Ohio’s schools increases under this plan.
Widener – This drives an additional 284 million in FY14 again, going specifically in the foundation formula line item to our public school districts in Ohio and 434 million in FY 15.

There is money set aside for specific programs.  Republican Senator Randy Gardner says…take pre-k education funding for example.

Gardner – We are going to make additional investments in early childhood education.  30 million dollars over the biennium for early education support for pre K.  This will be high quality education, early childhood education.

The Senators explain this plan sets specific dollar amounts to fund things like the 3rd grade reading guarantee…the plan that requires all students to reach a certain level of literacy by the 3rd grade or they would be held back.  The plan also raises caps on school districts so that school districts can get more local money before the state starts to reduce its funding.  Senate President Faber says this plan equalizes school funding in a way that hasn’t been done in the past.  And he thinks this complies with the DeRolph ruling that said Ohio was unconstitutional for the way it funds education.

Faber – We are effectively trying to reduce the differentiation between school districts.  Remember DeRolph didn’t say you can’t rely on property taxes.  But what it says is you can’t have a system that disproportionately provides inadequate resources to poor districts and rich districts don’t seem to have that problem.

Innovation Ohio, a liberal leaning think tank, has been critical of the way the Republican legislature has funded schools in the past.  And Stephen Dyer, the education policy fellow for that group, says he hasn’t had a chance to look at the actual numbers in the senate’s plan.  But he suspects the plan still doesn’t give enough money to schools.

Dyer – It looks like it’s more money than what districts got in the last school year but what they got in the last school year was a lot less money than what they got in the previous school year so I think that it is fair to say that right now, given the amount they are talking about, it looks like districts are going to be dealing with fewer resources than what they had four years ago.

Additionally, Dyer says it makes him a little nervous when he hears lawmakers talking about earmarking money to specific programs .

Dyer - My main concern is anytime you start earmarking money for specific programs because the amount of money is not adequate you are going to be removing programming money in other areas to pay for these specific areas and that can harm kids.

Dyer says he’ll probably have more to say about the Senate’s plan as he mulls it over in the coming hours.  Lawmakers say they will probably be tweaking some things in the plan too between now and next week.