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School funding reform could mean millions more for some Valley schools

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is entertaining statehouse efforts to overhaul the formula that calculates state aid for school districts.
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COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine opposes an education funding idea from House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, in which the state would control a larger portion of the tax money that is collected for schools for the purpose of redistributing the funds to communities with fewer resources.

Rather, DeWine is embracing a different education reform efforts proposed by Reps. Robert Cupp, R-Lima and John Patterson, D-Jefferson. Their Ohio Fair School Funding Plan, formalized as House Bill 305, could mean millions more in state aid dollars for Mahoning Valley school districts in just its first two years.

“I’m old enough that I have been through every proposal for school funding that anybody could imagine,” DeWine said in addressing Householder’s suggestion, according to statenews.org. “And many of them have great merit. I think we just wait. Cupp and Patterson have put a lot of work in on this, and I just think we should wait and see what they come up with.”

The reform proposed by Cupp and Patterson would create a new funding formula for education. Most schools are not funded through the current formula because lawmakers have consistently updated it to address unique circumstances, rather than overhauling the system.

Total spending on the public school system would increase by about $1.5 billion under the new plan. Districts that have low property values would receive additional funding from the state to offset its inability to cover costs through property taxes

Under the first iteration of the plan — it's since undergone revisions, Patterson told Mahoning Matters — all school districts in Mahoning and Trumbull counties would receive some sort of net increase in state funding over the next two years of funding proposals, save a handful of districts — Youngstown, Warren, Campbell, Poland and Sebring — which wouldn't see a change at all.

Austintown and Boardman schools, which respectively have the second- and third-highest enrollment in the county behind Youngstown, would receive massive boosts in proposed 2020 and 2021 state funding under the Cupp-Patterson proposal.

Austintown — which has relied on the state funding guarantee since the 2017 fiscal year due to declining enrollment — would receive a combined $2.45 million more over those two years. Boardman — one of several Valley districts for which state funding has been capped — would get an extra $3.96 million.

Here's how much more the five Valley school districts with the highest full-time equivalency, or FTE, could receive in fiscal projections for 2020 and 2021 under the Cupp-Patterson proposal:

Mahoning County

  • Youngstown, 4,832 FTE: $0
  • Austintown, 4,488 FTE: $2,452,038
  • Boardman, 4,059 FTE: $3,959,770
  • Canfield, 2,572 FTE: $144,175
  • West Branch, 1,932 FTE: $265,414

Trumbull County

  • Warren, 4,510 FTE: $0
  • Howland, 2,561 FTE: $1,075,266
  • Niles, 2,231 FTE: $611,858
  • Hubbard, 1,912 FTE: $1,071,372
  • Girard, 1,699 FTE: $1,239,317

Read the full report here.

Lordstown Local School District's state funding is also capped, meaning it's expected to lose out on about $1.8 million over the next two years — about half of what it would have gotten from the state under the current funding formula, Superintendent Terry Armstrong said.

Under the new formula, the district could expect to see $1.01 million more from the state over the next two years. But conversely, the loss of the General Motors Lordstown Assembly Complex alone will take about $800,000 in property taxes with it, he added.

"Lordstown Schools, and frankly the entire Mahoning Valley, is still reeling from the closing of the General Motors Lordstown plant," Armstrong testified Oct. 30 before the House Finance Committee. "The timing of fairness in school funding could not be more important to Lordstown Schools. We have families hurting. Many families love their local schools and find themselves having one parent staying in the Mahoning Valley with their children while the GM-employed spouse travels out of state for work.

"The loss of these and affiliated jobs in our region is hurting our families and will impact the capacity of schools to meet the growing needs of our students."

Like Armstrong, who said he and other administrators have "lost confidence" in the current funding formula, LaBrae Schools Superintendent A.J. Calderone also testified in favor of reforming Ohio's school funding system, calling it "a series of ever-changing patches, Band-Aids and budgeting quirks."

He said the district hasn't gone out for a new operating levy in 28 years.

"However, paying bills in 2019 on property valuations from 1991, while trying to do our best for students, is getting ever more difficult," Calderone testified Nov. 7 before the finance committee. "Nonetheless, our district is reaching a critical point where we can no longer assure that our current path is sustainable.

"The overall economy of the Mahoning Valley, and the local capacity demographics of our community, make asking for additional millage an improbable situation," he continued. "It is our hope to be able to stay off the ballot long enough to see the Fair Funding Model enacted into law, thereby providing the predictable and reliable funding support that keeps LaBrae from requesting more from our property owners."

This plan is co-sponsored by about two-thirds of the Ohio House.

The Ohio House Finance Committee has since heard supportive testimony across six hearings. Patterson told Mahoning Matters three more hearings are set for next month. Further hearings would break down components of the plan like funding distribution, special education and transportation for the remaining third of House legislators, "so that they can understand the complexities of school funding and find a pathway forward to get this right for our kids and our school districts.

"We've been told to develop the formula — the formula that works," he said.

Patterson said those developing the plan have been "sensitive" to the criticisms it drew in September from the Ohio Education Policy Institute for not doing enough to close the gap in funding capabilities between wealthy and poor school districts. He said it's since undergone some revisions, with help from the author of that institute analysis.

Householder has not introduced any formal plans or any amendments regarding his suggestion.

Mahoning Matters reporters Justin Dennis and Jess Hardin contributed to this report.