Now is the moment to fully and fairly fund Ohio’s schools
School buses for Sandusky City Schools. Photo from Sandusky City Schools website.
For decades, Ohio’s legislature has spun its wheels trying to “fix” our public schools. They’ve increased standardized testing, based decisions off a school report card system that fails to measure if we are meeting our students’ needs, and finally, when schools or districts fall short on these arbitrary metrics, legislators have harmed them even more by creating punitive funding deductions and unaccountable Academic Distress Commissions.
None of these actions have helped to ensure that all of Ohio’s kids — no matter where they live or what they look like — can attend a local public school that inspires their creativity, unlocks their potential, and nurtures their dreams. In fact, they’ve done the opposite. Likewise, legislators have enacted school funding policies that pit parents against teachers and communities against each other, all while draining resources from our schools so they can give handouts to the wealthy few and corporations.
But, there’s one thing we haven’t tried yet — living up to Ohio’s constitutional responsibility to fully and fairly fund public education for all Ohio students.
We can build a solid foundation for all public schools and ensure that every single student in Ohio has the resources they need for their future, whether that’s smaller class sizes, more school nurses and social workers, tablets and laptops, or language, music, and art electives.
The Fair School Funding Plan is a fair and equitable school funding formula that reflects what it actually costs to provide a good education, and how much a community can afford to pay. The plan would fix a broken funding scheme that has been ruled unconstitutional four times in the last quarter century because it harms all communities, but especially poorer, rural communities and communities with more Black and brown students.
The plan has passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in this General Assembly and the previous one. It has the support of the statewide associations that represent school boards, school administrators, and school treasurers. While many stakeholders continue to evaluate the changes that were made to HB 1 when it was inserted into the House Budget bill, the bottom line remains the same: Ohio’s students can’t wait any longer for lawmakers to deliver on the promise of world-class opportunities for all.
That’s why our unions are uniting with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and Policy Matters Ohio to form All in For Ohio Kids, a coalition that will mobilize parents, students, educators, and taxpayers. Together, we’ll make sure that Ohio lives up to our commitment to fully and fairly fund local public schools so that all of our children can thrive and become the next generation of entrepreneurs, problem-solvers, and community leaders.
Right now, different school districts are harmed by the lack of fair school funding in different ways. In places like Washington Local School District, state funding hits an artificial cap that drastically and artificially cuts funding for the students enrolled there. In the 2018-2019 school year, Washington Local schools would have received nearly 50% more in state aid if there was no “cap,” a difference of $14.5 million that year alone.
The Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District is facing a different problem because their district has a large proportion of students who attend private religious schools using taxpayer funded vouchers. Because Ohio’s voucher program deducts more money per student than is actually provided by the state, it forces the community to use local funding to offset those losses — $7.2 million last year alone.
To add insult to injury, the vast majority of voucher recipients in the district had never attended a public school — destroying the argument that voucher recipients need to be “rescued” from a “failed” system. In fact, the Cincinnati Enquirer revealed last year that nearly 90% of all voucher students do worse on state tests than students who attend public schools in the same communities.
The Fair School Funding Plan addresses both these problems by eliminating deductions and artificial caps and by directly funding what students need.
The pandemic has exacerbated disparities in education that are linked to our inability to fairly fund local public schools. All Ohio students have suffered from disrupted learning opportunities, but because the state’s funding system is so broken, the effects have been worse in districts that lack technology access and where overcrowded, poorly ventilated aging school buildings delayed safe reopenings.
The federal American Rescue Plan will provide a much needed one-time infusion to help students bounce back after a challenging year. But after that one-time money is gone, we need state funding to replace it. The Fair School Funding Plan will do just that, ensuring we don’t just return to the pre-pandemic status quo but instead deliver on the promise of a world-class education for all Ohio kids so they can lead us into a bright new future filled with hope.
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