Ohio Gov. Kasich unveils school funding plan to boost struggling districts

by DAN SEWELL and JULIE CARR SMYTH Associated Press Published:

Columbus -- Ohio Gov. John Kasich unveiled a school-funding overhaul Jan. 31 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.

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 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.

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