Ohio Governor's Budget, Like Previous Budgets, Headed for Trash Can?

The Ohio legislature has discarded the Governor's previous budgets, and specifically the portion related to K-12 funding. According to reports, of which this Gongwer report is representative, we're likely to see the same result.

Mr. Keen indicated the governor's forthcoming budget will seek to gradually reduce the percentage of money withheld from schools under what is termed a "gain cap," or a restriction on what districts receive over the biennium juxtaposed to what they would be due if the full formula was in place. The administration also differs somewhat on the application of "guarantees" of continued funding levels for schools.

As with some of his predecessors, the governor's last school funding proposal began to unravel once district-specific spreadsheets were produced and the full effects of the proposed transition to a true funding formula became evident. In short, despite adding more overall funds to the formula, more than half of all districts would have received less money than the year before and others were in line for substantial increases.

Those are the effects of overlaying a formula on years of spending patterns bolstered by lawmakers' desires to make sure schools in their districts are kept whole despite enrollment changes and other factors.

Eventually, Mr. Kasich's model, aimed at getting more districts on a new formula, was modified when lawmakers sought to "guarantee" they receive at least the same amount of funding received in the previous biennium - a policy that apparently still has strong support among legislative leadership.

Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) has said districts need certainty if they're going to improve, but it remains to be seen how that applies to caps and guarantees. 

Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina), meanwhile, said he'd like to extend previous funding promises to schools into the next biennium.

The goal of the changes to the last budget, he said, was to "raise up districts that perhaps needed more assistance without cutting down any other ones."

"I would hope we have the same kind of commitment going into this General Assembly as well," Sen. Obhof added.

But the desire to give additional dollars to some schools regardless of changing circumstances jeopardizes the hope of ever reducing the number of districts on the gain cap, Mr. Keen said.

Caps are set to make sure the state isn't paying more dollars than it has available in the school funding line item, he said. When the legislature starts guaranteeing transitional aid to districts above what was allotted in the administration's budget, the cap has to be adjusted unless more cash is put into the formula.

Nothing is more exasperating for public school supporters than the perpetual failure to figure out how to properly fund our schools, so that every student has an equal opportunity for success, regardless of where they live.

William Phillis, executive director of the group behind the DeRolph lawsuit, the Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, said that process has continued.

He and others have long called on the legislature to determine how much money is needed to create a "thorough and efficient" public school system and work from that figure as opposed to the amount of tax dollars expected to be available in any given budget cycle.

"When you don't know what the cost of education is, and maybe don't care, and you just have a pool of money and use that pool to distribute a residual amount, then you're going to have winners and losers," Mr. Phillis said. "To mitigate against somebody that's going to be too much of a winner, you cap it, and to mitigate against losers, we'll put a guarantee in."