Ohio’s new state budget contains increased funding for K-12 public school districts, but it’s not an across-the-board bump — some districts will receive millions more over the next two years, while other, seemingly similar districts will have state aid frozen at current levels.
In the Miami Valley, 42 of the 62 public school districts will get 6.25 percent increases in state aid next year, according to projections from Ohio’s Legislative Services Commission. That includes large, urban, poorer districts like Dayton and Springfield, suburban, affluent districts like Springboro and Centerville, and a few smaller, rural districts like Valley View.
In the second year of the state budget, 49 of those districts will get a second funding increase, with 26 districts getting the maximum boost of 10.5 percent.
But while some districts will celebrate a multimillion-dollar influx, 13 small-town and rural districts will see their state funding frozen at current levels through 2015, according to the projections. They include Bellbrook-Sugarcreek, Tipp City, Greenon and Talawanda.
Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Superintendent Keith St. Pierre said the new freeze is frustrating coming on the heels of past state funding cuts.
“Higher property wealth and those type of factors typically lump us (with certain other districts), and yet one gets more money and one gets less, and we get nothing,” St. Pierre said Tuesday. “How did that all work? I wish we had an answer to that.”
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said state legislators were trying to fairly distribute funds and address some lingering constitutionality issues while realizing there’s no such thing as “enough” money.
“The real challenge is you have 614 school districts, and they have very different challenges and different types of students,” said Lehner, who is chairwoman of the state senate’s education committee. “I think it’s very, very difficult to come up with one formula that perfectly satisfies all of those differences. This is an attempt to come as close as we could. Is it perfect? No. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a perfect formula.”
Lehner said the two major pieces of the funding formula are school district enrollment, based on a figure called average daily membership, and property valuations within each school district, as set by county auditors.
Lehner said in resetting the funding formula for the first time since 2009, legislators saw that county auditors’ valuation of farmland had gone up significantly. Consequently, many of the 13 local districts that got no increase in state funding are partially or primarily farm communities.
“If there is a continued flaw in the formula, it may reside in this issue of the valuation of rural farmland over income (in those communities),” Lehner said. “Their ability to pay for their schools has not increased even though their property value has increased somewhat. So there may have to be some tweaking of that down the road.”
Miami East schools Superintendent Todd Rappold said Tuesday he had never heard that explanation before and added that it is frustrating trying to make multiyear school funding plans when new approaches keep coming from Columbus.
“We’re just as confused on a lot of these simulations as everyone else,” Rappold said. “The information seems to change on a weekly basis. The numbers change, the explanation of the funding changes on a weekly basis.”
Many urban and suburban districts are getting good news from the funding projections. Fourteen of the 16 school districts in Montgomery County will get the maximum 6.25 percent increase next year, and nine of those 16 are also projected to get the full 10.5 percent bump the following year — Dayton, Huber Heights, Centerville, Kettering, Mad River, Miamisburg, Northridge, Vandalia and West Carrollton.
State money is just one piece of the school funding picture, along with residents’ property taxes, income taxes in some districts, and aid from the federal government. Higher-wealth districts get less money — state aid made up only 13 percent of Centerville Schools’ funding in 2012 — while poorer districts depend heavily on state funding, with Dayton Public Schools getting 61 percent of their budget from the state.
New Dayton treasurer Craig Jones said the projected increase in state revenue — $8.3 million more next year and $14.8 million in 2014-15 — is crucial for his district as it tries to offset declining property tax revenues. But he said those numbers could shrink because the state budget also increased money for vouchers to charter schools. If more students leave Dayton Public for charters, the state money leaves with them.
St. Pierre said the freeze in state funding will likely keep Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools in a five-year levy cycle rather than waiting a sixth year before going back to voters for a levy.
Both St. Pierre and Jones said passing school property tax levies is about to get harder because of another state budget provision — eliminating the state’s 12.5 percent “rollback” contribution to new levies.
Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, said the governor “was insistent that no school receive less money than it did the previous year,” adding that those schools who aren’t receiving an increase under the new budget are schools that would have seen funding reduced under the old school funding formula.
Nichols and Lehner both said that K-12 education funding from the state has increased every year since Kasich took office in 2011. Lehner said past funding decreases to some traditional public districts were the result of federal stimulus funds running out, and state money going to charter schools and private vouchers instead.