Poor and Rural School District Officials Say Funding Shortchanges Them

Mar 13, 2013

Gov. John Kasich got the attention of nearly every school official in Ohio when he said this while rolling out his school funding proposal in January.

“If you are poor, you’re going to get more; if you’re richer, you’re going to get less,” said Kasich.

Leaders from schools in some of the state’s poorest areas came to Columbus today, to say that when they studied Gov. John Kasich’s school funding formula, they didn’t like what they learned.

Dozens of school officials in poor and rural districts came to the Statehouse to tell lawmakers that’s not how they’re reading the numbers in Kasich’s budget. George Wood is the superintendent of the Federal Hocking Local Schools, a district that’s big in terms of area but small in terms of kids – it covers 190 square miles but has fewer than 1100 students. He says the formula has the state cutting funding to many schools just as more money is coming in.

“I’m happy there are more people working apparently in the state," says Wood.  "I’m happy the income tax is up. I’m happy – I guess – lottery profits are up, though, you understand, we don’t really see all those. I’m happy about all that. I just want it to be shared. And I think the first place you share in a state is with your children.”

Wood says over 80% of the state’s rural and poor districts would get less funding in this budget than in past years and will have to rely on so-called guarantees, which Kasich has warned will be discontinued in future budgets.  And at the same time, the governor has proposed an increase on big oil and natural gas drillers, with the money going to offset a cut in the income tax. Tom Gibbs is the superintendent of the Fort Frye Local and the Warren Local Schools in extreme southeast Ohio. He says that’s not fair.

“So essentially we have a budget that proposes to take the very resources from the most depressed region of our state and to take it from our region of the state and distribute it to other areas of the state based on income – which means that money isn’t coming back to southeast Ohio. That money is going to wealthier suburban and urban districts,” says Gibbs.

And the officials also say they’re being asked to do even more in the classroom – with the third grade reading guarantee, a new teacher evaluation system, and new requirements and standards in math, language arts, social studies and science. The governor’s office has said the plan provides $1.2 billion in new funding, and that more than half of Ohio students attend a school that will get a funding increase. But the brand new state school superintendent says the formula isn’t written in stone. Just hours after he was hired by the state board of education and away from the governor’s office, where he was Kasich’s education czar, Superintendent Richard Ross said he’s open to ideas.

“I guess I look at that particular part of our school plan, the Achievement Everywhere, as being receptive to tinkering and adjustments and we’ve heard some suggestions about that,” says Ross.

Ross says the $300 million Straight A fund could help rural districts with one-time grants to pay for ideas that can help modernize operations and trim costs or improve student performance and achievement, which can help them as they face the future without guaranteed funding. As for the severance tax that the school leaders say isn’t fair – there’s plenty of debate among Republicans who dominate the House and Senate as to whether that will end up in the budget at all.