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Lawmakers Eye Summer Hearings For Ohio School Funding Plan

State Reps. Bob Cupp, left, and John Patterson discuss the latest version of their proposal to overhaul to school funding in Ohio system at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, June 26, 2019.
Kantele Franko
State Reps. Bob Cupp, left, and John Patterson discuss the latest version of their proposal to overhaul of school funding system in Ohio at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, June 26, 2019.

Lawmakers introducing a proposal Wednesday to overhaul Ohio's school funding system said they changed their original plan to direct more money for economically disadvantaged students and phase in changes over six years, rather than four.

Rep. John Patterson, (D-Jefferson) Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said they hope to have hearings about their bill this summer, which would be rare for the Legislature.

Two-thirds of Ohio House members are co-sponsoring the legislation. That reflects a sense of urgency about addressing a problem that has plagued the state for decades, said Patterson, who, with Cupp, led the workgroup that developed the proposed fix.

"We have some of the best minds ever assembled — practitioners, legislators — open to this vetting process," Patterson said. "We. Must. Do. This. Now."

The Cupp-Patterson plan attempts to more fairly split local and state funding shares and to factor in the cost of educating a child and a community's ability to help pay for that. It includes extra support for needs such as special education and educating children in poverty.

Ohio's current school funding is nearly $11 billion a year. Under the overhaul, the state would spend about $360 million more in the first fiscal year. The additional increase the following year would be less than $300 million, Cupp said.

He said they couldn't provide the total estimated cost over the phase-in period because too many variables could change across Ohio's 600-plus school districts during those six years. He noted the formula would be scalable to provide a fair distribution whether the state is flush with funds or in a recession.

Supporters argue that the kind of changes proposed in the Cupp-Patterson plan are needed to help address an achievement gap that correlates to poverty and to untangle the complicated funding patchwork that has evolved since Ohio's school-funding system was found unconstitutional in 1997.

The existing formula doesn't apply to most districts because of that patchwork of funding boosts and caps, which would be phased-out under the new proposal.

Cupp, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice, said it meets the relevant legal requirements.

The lawmakers' initial plan announced in March drew praise from public-school advocates and teachers unions but also criticisms that it would benefit some wealthier districts without doing enough to help poorer ones. In response, changes were made to the proposed funding distribution formula to provide a boost for high-poverty urban districts and low-wealth rural areas, Cupp said.

Cupp and Patterson had hoped their plan would be part of the new two-year state budget, but they said it became clear that more time was needed to allow for feedback and for fellow lawmakers to better understand the funding complexities.

The budget, which must be signed by GOP Gov. Mike DeWine by Sunday, wouldn't change the basic school-funding formula but is expected to include significant spending for educational wraparound services as DeWine proposed. Lawmakers still are ironing out differences between the versions approved by the House and Senate.

The House favored providing $675 million toward such services. The Senate allotted $500 million, with the other $125 million going toward education-related spending such as private-school scholarships and fast-growing school districts whose funding has been capped.