Ohio lawmakers recently released a bipartisan plan for funding public schools that may offer local districts more say in the matter.
School funding has long been a source of confusion and strife in Ohio. Though the state ostensibly offers its districts an annual baseline of about $6,000 per student, the amount that district administrators actually see tends to fall far short of that number.
Why is that? Districts can largely point the finger at the state’s opaque funding formula, which subjects each district’s per-pupil funding to a number of caps and reductions. Foremost among these reductions is the State Share Index (SSI), the factor by which Ohio reduces the funding each district receives to push more funding responsibility onto local tax revenues.
The SSI is required to be somewhere between 0.05 and 0.90, meaning the richest districts receive only five percent of the $6,010 state baseline and the poorest districts receive up to 90 percent of the baseline. Establishing a district’s SSI involves a series of complex calculations on its collective tax value and residential income, and the assumption is that wealthier districts will compensate for reduced state funding with bigger local levies.
Once the SSI is applied, a district’s per-student funding is reduced even further by Ohio’s “Funding Cap.” Between the SSI and the Funding Cap, many districts can expect to receive less than half of the state baseline funding. The Columbus City School District, for example, received a mere $2,484.13 per student last year.
For years, statewide school funding figures have seemed more like an ideal than a reality, as districts rarely see the amount of funding that the state initially promised. However, a new bipartisan plan has the potential to change that. Introduced at the end of March, the Fair School Funding Plan may represent a new chapter in Ohio school funding.
What to Expect from the Fair School Funding Plan
According to the executive summary of the plan, Ohio’s lawmakers agree with its educational leaders on at least one point: “Ohio’s current school funding formula is not working.” That’s why the taskforce for the new plan was composed of both lawmakers and educators, ensuring that the voices of those who know what it takes to educate a child in Ohio were heard.
Though it’s not yet clear how much the new plan will cost taxpayers — nor how much funding the new plan will offer each district — the plan promises that no district will receive less funding in the coming year than it did in the last. Over time, it aims to minimize funding caps and allocate state funds according to a transparent formula, hopefully reducing the confusion that surrounds Ohio’s existing funding methods.
In the new plan, 95 percent of baseline funding will go directly to classroom instruction and instructional support costs, including teaching (60 percent), educational supports (15 percent), and school operations (20 percent). Decisions regarding exactly how to spend baseline funding will be made at the local level.
Beyond baseline funding, the Fair School Funding Plan proposes providing additional state aid to address poverty and mental health, help special needs, gifted, and LEP students, upgrade educational technology, promote STEM, support high-quality preschool, improve school security, and fund career technical education centers.
Additionally, the plan acknowledges the tension created by Ohio’s school choice and voucher program. Currently, the program is set up so that students’ assigned schools are required to send funding to their actual educators. Moving forward, the state will give funding directly to the actual educators, cutting out the intermediary step.
Maximizing Funding Under the New Plan
The Fair School Funding Plan certainly seems like a step in the right direction for Ohio public education, and may well indicate exciting new changes on the horizon for administrators, educators, and students alike. However, one thing that isn’t likely to change under the new plan is the need for accurate and precise EMIS reporting.
Regardless of how schools in Ohio receive funding moving forward, it’s incumbent upon Superintendents and District Treasurers to keep their enrollment data in order to ensure they receive the most funding possible. That’s why we built our CheckPoint EMIS Platform — a powerful EMIS reporting tool that can help districts ensure they receive every dollar to which they’re entitled.