By Marc Kovac
Senate Republicans unveiled a new school-funding formula Thursday that likely will change as it moves through committee deliberations and passage in the Senate next week.
They are calling the formula the biggest increase in at least a decade. Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina, said the chamber’s plan, to be amended into the $61 billion-plus biennial budget bill that’s headed for passage early next month, would increase state aid to schools by $717 million over the current biennium.
“That is the largest increase as a percentage for the last 10 years or longer,” Faber said at the Statehouse. Still, Faber called the plan a “work in progress.”
Under the preliminary plan, Youngstown City Schools’ basic state aid would increase from $76 million in fiscal year 2013 to $89 million in fiscal year 2015.
The total does not include other initiatives planned by the Senate’s majority caucus, including a $30 million boost to quality pre-school programming and $207 million to implementthe state’s new third- grade reading guarantee.
A conference committee of senators and Ohio House members will hammer out a final two-year spending plan, with Gov. John Kasich expected to sign it into law before July 1, the start of the new state fiscal year.
“Our fundamental goal of this process is to keep the governor’s basic framework while expanding on what the House did to improve that plan,” Faber said of the Senate formula. “Our focus is to adequately care for the educational needs of all Ohio children.”
The plan includes $6.6 billion in state aid to schools in fiscal 2014 and $7 billion in 2015, up from $6.3 billion in the current fiscal year.
A total of 176 districts would not see funding increases over the next two fiscal years. The remaining 400-plus districts would see increases up to 6.25 percent and 10.5 percent in fiscal 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Senate Democrats declined to comment on the plan Thursday afternoon, saying they had not yet had enough opportunity to review the details.
Stephen Dyer, a former Democratic state representative from the Akron area who played a pivotal role in school funding reform during Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration, said the new Senate GOP proposal still shortchanges the state’s poorest districts.
“While the Senate appears to have given a modest increase over the Ohio House version of the budget, it still falls far short of what was needed to replace the massive cuts from the previous biennial budget,” he said in a statement. “In addition, it is difficult to see how this proposal is constitutional when nearly 40 percent of the poorest, rural districts in the state will get zero increases over the biennium, including the Perry County district where the lawsuit came from.