On Thursday, January 31st, Governor Kasich announced his education budget plan to a room filled with Ohio Superintendents, press and charter school organizations.  Dr. Richard Ross, Barb Mattei-Smith and Tim Keen were there to provide an overview.
The Governor stated that his plan, which he calls “Achievement Everywhere”, is fully funded and does not rely on additional taxes from wealthier districts to supplement it.  The plan will cost around $1.2 billion over the two-year budget cycle.  The money will not come from the rainy day fund, which currently has less than $500 million in it.  The Governor noted the state is growing economically and some spending has been restrained, so that is how the plan will be funded while the rainy day fund will continue to grow to provide for unexpected needs like an economic downturn.
These are the components of the plan that were presented at the meeting:
·         No district will receive fewer dollars from the state
·         The new plan guarantees 20 mills will generate 96% valuation ($250,000) and if it does not, the state will supply what is needed
·         The new base or core funding is the 20 mills + 15 mills for a total of 35
·         The additional 15 mills will be partially or wholly funded by the state – as low as 5% for the wealthier districts and up to 15% for poor districts
·         District wealth will be determined by both property and income
·         An innovation fund for 1-time grants will be created for self-sustaining, modernizing projects call the “Straight A Fund”
According to Dr. Ross, “students come first” in this plan.  And he stressed this is not a funding plan but an “education improvement plan”.  Also he noted this plan is not about operating schools but rather educating boys and girls.  The principles they used when devising the plan were:  resources go everywhere, reward good ideas, remove barriers from teacher/principal success and provide them additional flexibility, create environments of high expectations – a ‘high-performance’ culture, connect children to jobs of the future and increase the dollars to the classroom with less to bureaucracy and administration.
Barb Mattei-Smith announced that special education students will now be funded at 100% instead of 90% and there will be no 0% state share – even the wealthiest districts will receive at least 5% of the cost.  A $100,000,000 fund is available to cover exceptional costs.  Money for students who need help with English will be provided for the first 3 years the student is enrolled in Ohio schools, and disadvantaged students could receive close to $1,000 per student in poor wealth districts.  An additional $50 per student will be provided for gifted programs and testing for all schools.
Some additional changes include fully funded all-day kindergarten for any school that offers it.  Opportunities for students to earn college credit must be expanded so that all interested students have the chance earn credit and the state will help.  Money will be available to duplicate successful preschool programs.  Career tech is changing to emphasize training for industries that have needs while also insuring those students are college-ready should they decide to pursue additional education after high school.  An additional noteworthy point:  the EdChoice Scholarship program is expanded to any student at or below 200% of poverty in this plan.
One issue the Governor is not tackling in his education budget is the “guarantee” that allows schools to maintain their funding level in spite of losing students.  This funding is neither sustainable nor equitable.  Both Kasich and his Budget Director, Tim Keen, made it clear that guarantees must be eliminated and will be dealt with, just not in the budget.
The ‘plan’ is likely to undergo renovations once it is goes through the legislative process in the House, where all appropriations bills must start, and again when it moves through the Senate.  No one can show how the changes will truly affect each individual district until the details are revealed, and the Governor’s office is currently striving to produce this information.
It is the belief of the Administration that the plan is constitutional.  Nothing in the current language would prohibit districts from placing levies for additional funds on the ballot.  Complaints about the funding levels have already been leveled by some districts – but the additional funding provided by federal stimulus dollars was always meant to be temporary and schools complaining about losing those dollars and expecting the state to make up the difference are being disingenuous.
What can schools do to be heard in this process?  The Governor is welcoming ideas that eliminate unfunded and underfunded mandates to lessen the cost of education and increase the quality.  Boards, administrators, teachers, school employees, parents and students could provide invaluable information and help move dollars from an unproductive bureaucracy to the classroom.