Jessica Brown & Denise Smith Amos reports:
Most Southwest Ohio school districts were breathing sighs of relief Wednesday after Gov. John Kasich’s office released detailed funding amounts for each district.
Some local districts, including Princeton and Reading, would collect as much as 25 percent more in state funding next year under the plan. Others, including Indian Hill and Norwood, would see their funding remain flat. No districts would have a decrease.
Most districts had been bracing for cuts in state aid. And the proposal still must pass muster in the Ohio House and Senate, where several iterations of the proposal will be pitched. For most districts, it’s too early to tell how it might impact their decisions to hire, lay off or seek property tax levies.
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The education budget, dubbed Kasich’s “Achievement Everywhere” plan and introduced last week, provides $1.2 billion in new money for K-12 education, including lottery and video terminal lottery revenue. It totals $7.3 billion in the 2013-14 school year and $7.5 billion the year after.
Kasich’s plan would overhaul the way schools are funded by funneling more money to poor districts to equalize the playing field for the state’s nearly 2 million schoolchildren. It’s Kasich’s attempt to equalize the way Ohio schools are funded, which the state Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional four times since 1997.
The proposed education budget also sets aside additional dollars for a “Straight A Fund” for innovation grants and gives more money to districts with large numbers of students who are poor, disabled, gifted or learning English as a second language. The plan also expands the Educational Choice voucher program and gives more money to charter schools.
The data released Wednesday by Kasich’s office does not include the additional lottery proceeds.
An Enquirer review of the data in Southwest Ohio found:
• Of the 49 districts in Southwest Ohio, 27 would get no additional state money next year, while eight would get 25 percent increases.
• 22 districts would get increases in state funding, mostly those with large numbers of low-income students.
• On a per pupil basis, some of the districts that would see the most state dollars includes Felicity Franklin ($6,152); Mt. Healthy ($5,415); New Miami ($6,480); Goshen ($4,915); Hamilton City ($5,526); and North College Hill ($5,316).
• Districts seeing fewest state dollars per pupil include Indian Hill, $183; Princeton, $626 – even with the 25 percent increase in Kasich’s proposal; and Sycamore schools, $242. (Amounts rounded to nearest dollar.)
Gary Pack, Princeton’s superintendent, said the 5,100-student district isn’t celebrating the increases yet, in part because it doesn’t come close to prior state cuts in business tax reimbursements that took a total of $24 million out of the district over the years.
The district for years was considered “property wealthy” because of the industries within its boundaries. But with some business departures as well as statewide reductions in business taxes, local residents have shouldered more of the financial load for education.
Kasich’s plan proposed a total of $3.2 million in funding – $1.9 million of that comes from funding low-income students – for Princeton, a 25 percent boost.
“That will get us a little closer to what (the state) took away from us two years ago,” Pack said. “We’re optimistic, but … it’s a long way from February to June 30,” which is when the state budget must be approved.
Also, Pack said he has heard concerns that some lawmakers don’t wholly endorse the governor’s tax changes.
Cincinnati Public Schools, the region’s largest district, is set to get a 6.84 percent increase in state funding, or $8.8 million. But the district of 33,000 students would still have to make cuts to balance its budget.
“We’re certainly happy to receive the extra dollars but it isn’t enough to close the ($53.9 million) deficit that we’re facing” in the 2013-2014 school year, said Diana Whitt, treasurer.
Some superintendents were relieved that their funding wouldn’t be cut under Kasich’s plan.
“We’d projected a decrease in state funding,” said Lakota schools spokesman Randy Oppenheimer. Instead, his district of 16,600 would get a 12 percent increase ($4.1 million).
Northwest Local schools is one of many in the region that would not see any increases in state funding. Treasurer Randy Bertram said the $23.75 million his district would get next year is at least better than he had projected on the most recent five-year forecasts. He had assumed a 5 percent decline in state funding.
“We’re ahead of the game,” he said about the flat funding. “It’s better than what I budgeted for.”
Bertram says he’s still not happy with the process. His district, with lots of businesses, homes and a mall in its 52 square miles, is considered a property wealthy district by the state, even though the percentage of its 9,200 or so students who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches is nearly 45 percent.
Kasich said his budget is supposed to include adjustments for high-poverty districts that were “property wealthy,” such as Cincinnati’s. The adjustments didn’t change things for Northwest, however.
Indian Hill also would be flat-funded under the Kasich plan, something that came as a relief to the suburban district of nearly 2,000.
Two years ago, Gov. Kasich’s initially proposed a cut of all or most state funding to high-income districts like Indian Hill in the 2012-13 biennium budget. After district lobbying, legislators restored most or all of the state funding in the final budget bill that passed.
“I am thankful that we are receiving level funding for this next fiscal year,” said Superintendent Mark Miles. With only 5 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, the district received $5,142 for its economically disadvantaged students, part of $359,704 in state aid.
“We count on the state to continue to be a partner in (the public education) process,” Miles said.
That’s not to say his district won’t pursue other opportunities for more state funding. Kasich this year is proposing a new $300 million “Straight A Fund” to provide one-time grants for innovations, modernization and cost-saving efficiencies.
“I remain an eternal optimist,” Miles said. “I’m always hopeful for additional revenue.”
District by district funding
Gov. John Kasich released estimates Wednesday of how much state funding districts will receive under his new education funding proposal. Of the 49 districts in Southwest Ohio, 27 would receive no additional funding next year while others would receive up to 25 percent more money.