School funding bill to get new look under new speaker

Speaker of the House Bob Cupp addresses the chamber.

A school funding bill originally sponsored by new Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp is getting a fresh look and hopefully time in front of legislative committees before year’s end, according the legislator now heading up the bill.

The other original sponsor of the proposed legislation, state Rep. John Patterson, said a substitute bill is in the works that should touch on longstanding concerns the Ohio Supreme Court had about the constitutionality of the state’s education system.

“We’re taking a more balanced approach in the new bill,” Patterson, D-Jefferson, said.

The state’s contribution to education budgets has stagnated over time, while private schools have benefitted from the EdChoice scholarship program, in which some state funding for public school districts has been redirected to religious, charter and community schools.

EdChoice scholarships were frozen at current levels in an omnibus bill responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson.

Patterson said a substitute version of House Bill 305 seeks to address “overarching criticisms” of the original bill, and the education system itself. One of the major criticisms is the distribution of money in the school funding formula between school districts with varying financial situations.

“Under the current formula, districts are all interconnected, so as one district becomes wealthier, another becomes poorer,” Patterson told the Ohio Capital Journal.

So, in the new plan co-sponsored this time by Rep. Gary Scherer, R-Circleville, the legislators want to reassess the amount that districts are able to raise on their own before they decide what the amount of state aid would be to schools.

The proposed bill would also take the weight solely off of property taxes for school funding, something the 1997 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court in DeRolph v. State of Ohio ruled was a big reason the education system violated the state constitution.

The new plan will combine property and income taxes along with a calculation of a district’s wealth level to “determine a district’s true capacity to raise its fair share,” according to Patterson.

“The question is what is fair for the locals, and what is fair for the state,” Patterson said. “We have fine-tuned for that.”

Disadvantaged students would receive more immediate help than in previous funding models if the new bill is made law. In the original proposal for the bill, aid would have been phased in over time for school districts, but legislators are now looking to channel that aid to districts immediately. 

Patterson planned to meet with interested parties — teachers’ unions, public school officials and community school representatives on Tuesday to discuss the plan. One of those parties is the Ohio Federation of Teachers, who said school funding needs a direction that accounts for social and emotional learning as well as test proficiency.

“We’re hopeful that (the sponsors) are moving in the right direction,” said OFT executive director Melissa Cropper. “No school funding formula will be perfect, but having no school funding formula has been a disaster.”

In the next month, simulations of financial situations will be run to test the effectiveness of the bill as it stands, and Patterson hopes the bill will be ready when the Ohio House returns to regular session in September.

After anticipated amendments and passage of the bill, Patterson said implementation of the new formula could take years.

With EdChoice pitting private schools and public schools against each other for funding in the state model, Patterson said concerns were brought from both sides, and his bill plans to address private school issues as well.

“What I’ll say is we have heard their criticism and have addressed their concerns in the substitute bill,” Patterson. “I think they’re going to be pleased.”

The changes made to the bill Cupp once authored have the blessing of the new speaker, according to Patterson. 

“Speaker Cupp understands the absolute necessity of passing House Bill 305 in this General Assembly,” Patterson said.

Neither Cupp nor Scherer responded to requests for comment.