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Ohio School Funding Reform Is Dead For Now, Senate Finance Chair Says

Senate Finance Chair Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) gestures during a discussion about the Ohio Senate version of the budget as President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) looks on.
Karen Kasler
Ohio Public Radio

A key Republican lawmaker says the Cupp-Patterson school funding reform plan that passed the House overwhelmingly is dead in the Senate.

Senate Finance Committee chair Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) said he applauds those from both parties who spent years on the bipartisan legislation, championed by now-House Speaker Bob Cupp and outgoing Rep. John Patterson (D-Jefferson). The measure, HB305, passed the House 87-9 last week.

The new plan was discussed extensively before being introduced in June 2019. It calculates the state money for each district by using 60% property values and 40% income levels, which will allow poor school districts to receive more funds. At the same time, it eliminates caps on funding, which has forced many growing districts to rely on voter-approved tax levies.

A companion bill that reflects the same proposal was introduced in the Senate last month and has had two hearings. But three lawmakers – including Patterson himself – have tested positive for COVID-19 in just the last week, which Dolan notes could cut down on committee hearings needed before a vote on the bill.

“So very limited days, we would be very crowded in there," Dolan said. "I just don’t think it’s safe, so that’s factoring into the decision as well."

Dolan said he wants studies of the school funding plan to go forward, and to use it in crafting next year’s budget.

“Great effort, great framework. As I said to people, it’s more important that this thing passes on July 1 than January 1," Dolan said, referring the state budget's deadline of July 1.

School groups have praised the plan as the first constitutional proposal for school funding since the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the way Ohio pays for schools is unconstitutional.

However, Dolan said he’s not convinced the plan would finally make school funding constitutional, and is concerned about the cost. It’s estimated the Cupp-Patterson plan would add around $2 billion more than the $10 billion the state already spends each year on K-12 education. There are some suggestions the price tag could be higher than that, though school groups dispute those.