Ohio Gov. Kasich proposes school-funding overhaul to boost poorer districts, promote performance

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio Gov. John Kasich unveiled a school-funding overhaul on Thursday that he said is aimed at helping students in poor districts compete while introducing changes meant to reward and highlight innovation.

The Republican governor's long-awaited plan would boost districts that are lagging behind in property values and household incomes. Kasich education advisers said no schools would see reduced funding next year under the current formula, to allow them time to adjust. A special fund with $300 million in additional money would be created to reward districts with grants for innovation and efficiency.

"This is a plan that says that every student in any part of the state, regardless of what kind of district they come from, should be given the resources to be able to compete with a child across the state," Kasich said.

Kasich aides said state funding for K-12 districts would rise nearly 6 percent in fiscal year 2014, and 3.2 percent the next year -- a total of $1.2 billion more over two years from the state general fund and lottery proceeds. School budgets have been pounded by declines in other revenue sources, including the end of federal stimulus dollars, the phasing out of a state business tax, and declining property values in many areas.

Kasich advisers said the plan, dubbed "Achievement Everywhere," proposes funding changes that would bring all schools up to the tax base level of a district with $250,000 in property value per student -- a figure they said was at the 96th percentile of districts statewide -- and would ease wide disparities in millage revenues.

The plan means to help districts with the extra costs of special-needs students and provide more school choice, such as expanding vouchers for parents to move children from low-performing schools to private ones. There is also funding help planned for districts with high levels of poverty where students don't have access to preschool programs, and other aid to help them reach Ohio's new third grade reading proficiency target.

The plan also calls for increased funding help for educating disabled students and students who are learning to speak English, while also providing funds to support gifted and talented students and high school students who take college courses.

It also includes steps to increase transparency on school efficiency and performance, and to encourage districts to learn from the successes of comparable districts.

Kasich told school administrators that while he knew many were worried about cuts, the state's financial stewardship allows more funding which he said his administration wants to be sure benefits students directly.

"We want to get those dollars into the classroom," Kasich said.

The governor planned an online town hall at 6 p.m. allowing members of the public to submit questions. School funding decisions for Ohio's 613 school districts and 353 charter schools are likely to affect many tax bills, home values and the quality of the education children receive.

The long-awaited plan is expected to kick off months of debate over Ohio's educational direction.

Kasich said his plan would "strip all the politics" out of the funding issue, but there was criticism from some Democrats and teacher union officials that Kasich hadn't involved them in development of his plan.

"I have a fundamental problem with the governor's approach; that is, the lack of bipartisanship," said state Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati, leader of Senate Democrats. He said he was "a little bit amazed" that Kasich hadn't reached out to Democrats for their thoughts. He also said Kasich's plan had little detail, didn't let people know impacts on their specific school districts, and that what appears to be a major expansion of vouchers was worrisome.

A key legislator in the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate said she was encouraged by the governor's sweeping plan.

"I think the devil is in the details, and we haven't seen all the details yet," said Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. "From the broad concepts I've seen, I think it's very innovative and dynamic."

One teacher thought Kasich missed an opportunity to tap teachers' expertise by excluding educators.

"Unfortunately, the governor is working on education policy and school funding with only a select few," said Ella Jordan Isaac, a 7th grade teacher at Trotwood-Madison, near Dayton. "He must include all of us -- especially those of us with deep classroom experience -- as we move through this process."

In the two decades since the Ohio Supreme Court first declared the state's school funding system unconstitutional, many other attempts at a workable solution have been made.

According to legislative budget analysts, primary and secondary education accounted for almost 42 percent of state general revenue spending in fiscal 2011 and 40 percent in fiscal 2012.

While the state has waited for a new formula, Ohio school districts have continued to receive what they got in 2009

with a few adjustments that included assurances that no district receive less than in the previous fiscal year, and extra money for those demonstrating excellence.

Here are statements issued by officials about the announcement:

Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District: "It's too early to tell what the details mean for Cleveland, but at first glance, there are several strong indications the State is addressing long-standing problems with school funding in Ohio.  There's an effort here to treat people in a fair and equitable manner.  It appears to be a thoughtful process and an attempt to address tax issues without simply taking from rich districts to give money to poorer ones."

Terry Ryan, Vice-President for Ohio Programs and Policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute: "Governor Kasich's budget plan for K-12 education is exciting and indeed long overdue. Especially important are education dollars following students, support for innovation, more and smarter (and more quality-conscious) school choices, and greater flexibility for districts and schools. The Governor's plan, as crafted, looks to empower the professionals closest to kids - teachers and building level administrators - to make decisions that are in their students' best interests academically, while also expanding the power of parents to decide what type of school works best for their children. The Governor's plan moves Ohio's schools, families and students away from the idea of education being a one-size-fits-all enterprise to something closer to customized schooling for every child."

David James, Superintendent, Akron City Schools: "I definitely want to be a partner in finding more ways to build a world class education system. Whether you are a large, medium, or small district – the focus must be on the child. Prioritizing funding for their particular needs is the right approach. For those students with special circumstances, whether they are living in poverty, are disabled, or gifted, or are learning to speak English, we must ensure these students get the extra help they need. The Governor's proposal seems to include these themes and I look forward to confirming that upon review of the actual language. I also applaud Governor Kasich for addressing issues around standardizing the fees associated with dual enrollment programs across the state.  Helping students obtain college credit while still in high school lowers the overall cost of a post-secondary education and better prepares students for the rigors of college-level work.  Helping foster innovation through one-time grants is a great way to assist districts in the transition to more efficient and effective models of schooling. At the same time, there is a realization that some of the rules that schools must operate under, need to be re-evaluated in order to foster success. I am looking forward to this review of school operating standards. All of Ohio's children deserve equal opportunities to succeed in school. As school superintendents, Boards of Education, parents, and citizens we must re-imagine our education systems so that our students graduate college and career ready."

Virtual Town Hall on Ohio's Education Future http://KasichForOhio.com/Live

Sewell reported in Cincinnati; Associated Press reporter Kantele Franko contributed in Columbus.

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