With the July 1st approval of the State of Ohio’s biennial budget, we are celebrating a win for Cleveland students, families and schools through its inclusion of the Fair School Funding Plan — a long overdue legislative action confronting some of the most challenging issues faced by Ohio school districts, with disproportionate impact on urban districts like Cleveland.
Though the plan isn’t a permanent or perfect solution, it marks an important first step in putting students first when it comes to school funding in Ohio. According to a recent U.S. News & World Report article, Steve Dyer, government relations director at the Ohio Education Association and a former Democratic state lawmaker from Akron, says “it’s a totally different way of looking at school funding.” Noting that “it’s much more of a ‘What do kids need, and let’s pay for it’ rather than, ‘Here’s how much money we’re willing to spend, let’s divide it by the number of kids and see what we come up with.”
Below are the top 4 things we think you should know about Ohio’s Fair School Funding Plan as it related to Cleveland students and families:
- Cost per student — In the past, Ohio’s actual cost of educating a student was not used to determine the amount a school or district received from the State ($6,020 in the current budget) per pupil. For education advocates, this “per pupil” funding amount seemed to be an arbitrary figure, but the Fair School Funding plan will take into consideration the cost of teacher salaries and benefits, transportation, technology needs, and the number of administrators in a district, ensuring that most districts will receive between $7,000 to $8,000 per student, a substantial increase.
- Cost sharing improvements — One of the issues that Eric Gordon, Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO, outlined in his support of the Fair School Funding Plan was the burden of cost on urban districts when families opt out of their local schools. Gordon emphasizes the importance of school choice, including partnerships with a portfolio of high-performing CMSD-sponsored charter schools. We are grateful, however, that the new funding model now requires the state to make payments directly to charter schools and voucher payments for private schools directly, instead of placing that cost/payment burden on school districts.
- Charter Schools and Religion, Provisions Removed — The final budget language removed an addition in the Ohio Senate passed version that could have allowed for religiously based charter schools. The final language restored the provision that schools will be “nonsectarian in their programs, admissions policies, employment practices, and all other operations and will not be operated by a sectarian school or religious institution.”
- It’s only for two years — One of the biggest criticisms of The Fair School Funding Plan is that the Ohio legislature only committed to funding the plan for two years. Originally, the Ohio House of Representatives approved a 6-year phased plan, which did not make it through to the final version of the budget. Education advocates and district leaders have quickly followed their celebration and relief with concern that everything could change again in two years, making it difficult to make long term plans.
Depending on who you ask, the legislative road map for how schools will continue to be funded beyond the two year mark is either the best part of the plan or a cause for concern. According to Ryan Pendleton, treasurer of Akron Schools, “the road map is the more important aspect,” he said, “Meaning, once fully phased in, we should have about $30 million of additional monies. Much of that is economically-disadvantaged monies that we need to put to work towards those students who need it most. That’s exciting. That road map is exciting because now we know the legislature, the General Assembly, knows exactly what needs to be costed out to get to that level of adequate funding.”