Ohio governor takes school-funding plan to SW Ohio

LISA CORNWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Gov. John Kasich told educators in southwest Ohio on Friday his new school-funding plan is not about politics but making sure every child in the state has an equal opportunity to compete and succeed.

A day after he unveiled his plan, Kasich told educational leaders who gathered at Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati that past political decisions have resulted in funding disparities. He said playing politics with resources designed to help children learn and succeed is "flat out wrong" and current financial disparities between districts must be corrected.

"When you may have $700 behind one child and $14,000 behind another one, that's not an acceptable goal," Kasich said.

Kasich's proposal would bring all schools up to the tax base level of a district with $250,000 in property value per student to ease wide disparities in millage revenues from local levies.

The Republican governor's $15.1 billion, two-year plan unveiled Thursday boosts K-12 spending by $1.2 billion over the current budget cycle. It also establishes a $300 million fund to pay for competitive innovation and efficiency grants among other proposals.

Kasich has guaranteed no funding cuts for the next two years but the exact repercussions of the plan beyond that remain unclear -- particularly for districts that may have to wean themselves off state funding that will move elsewhere.

Some changes will have to be made to funding guarantees, Kasich said, particularly in the minds of legislators who don't want to see their schools get less money. Changing guarantees this time around "would have created chaos in the schools," he said, but the current system isn't sustainable.

The governor's discussion Friday also included comments from a panel of school superintendents that included Mary Ronan, superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools. Ronan said she was especially impressed with the money for pre-school and funding for all-day kindergarten, "so we can get our youngsters off to a great start."

Ronan and John Marschhausen, superintendent of the Loveland City School District near Cincinnati, said there was a lot of relief among districts when they learned that no district would see immediate cuts. Kasich drew applause Friday when he referred to that part of the plan.

Christopher Burrows, superintendent of Georgetown Exempted Village Schools in rural Brown County liked much of what he heard, especially the part about money to pay for innovation that he has long wanted to pursue. But he said superintendents will have to meet with legislators to communicate what they like and don't like about the plan.

Despite the overall positive reaction Friday, some concerns linger.

Andrew Benson, executive director of Ohio Education Matters, said he is concerned that funding isn't linked to performance and expressed reservations whether the funding proposed can raise achievement.

"With this plan, it seems like you are equalizing, but at the end of the day you are not connecting it to what you want to achieve," said Benson, whose organization is a policy think tank that focuses on school funding and other Ohio issues.

Even those expressing more enthusiasm said they are still awaiting the release next week of information on how much each district will receive under the plan.

The debate over the plan that will affect Ohio's 613 school districts and 353 charter schools is expected to continue for months.

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