Vigilance needed to make victory certain
In June the Ohio House passed the two-year state budget with a vote of 82–13, and the Senate followed, 32–1. The budget includes a new school-funding formula, two years of partial funding, and the end of deduction funding, which diverts state aid from public school districts to voucher programs and charter schools.
These were gratifying victories for public education, democracy, and the Cleveland Heights–University Heights (CH-UH) City School District. They will make the funding system fair and predictable, and, when fully funded, adequate and equitable.
After the Fair School Funding Plan was approved, statehouse allies recognized the effectiveness of advocacy by the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters: Authentic testimony submitted by many, a constant stream of letters, e-mails, phone conversations and postcards, and pointed opinion pieces and letters to the editor added up. We were noisy, and never quit.
We were part of a statewide effort by public-education champions, social-justice advocates, and defenders of the Ohio Constitution. Our voices gave House Speaker Robert Cupp additional leverage to negotiate.
Last year, more than $14 million in state aid went to private schools and charter schools, instead of the CH-UH students it was intended to support, leaving the district just $7.5 million. This destructive practice of deduction funding has gone on for more than seven years. It has undermined the schools and damaged the community, driving up local taxes and igniting community division.
Under the plan, the state will directly pay for education outside of traditional public schools, and no longer force local districts to fund the education of children who don’t attend their schools. It will provide relief to nearly every school district, but won’t translate into a windfall of new resources.
Under the formula, most districts will experience increases in state funds. The plan assumes it will take six years to phase in the increased support, after which the CH-UH schools will have received about $18 million. If the legislature sticks to the plan over the next three biennial budget cycles, it will close the gap between 2021 funding levels and the levels projected by the new formula. It will be gradual, adding one-sixth of the new funds each year.
Even though school starts this month, school district leaders and the public still do not know how much state funding they will have to work with. Scott Gainer, the district's treasurer, is counting on a briefing in early August to provide an accurate estimate of state support.
As of mid-July, the simulations indicate that CH-UH will receive $9.5 million for the upcoming school year, and $10.8 million for the next. This is an increase from the $7.5 million in state funds the district was able to use in 2021, after paying off deductions. It will take time to reach the $18 million that the plan says the district deserves.
When fully funded, the plan will make state funding of the schools constitutional—a tremendous achievement. I am grateful to all of the participants in the legislative process who made a nearly impossible idea a reality, but this year's legislative victory will not be complete until the plan is fully funded.
Districts like ours that were hard hit by the voucher fiasco have the most to lose if the legislature does not provide the funding needed for quality education throughout the state. That is why we have to be there in two years to advocate for fair school funding in the next biennium.
We moved the legislature once. We certainly will need to do it again.
Susie Kaeser has been a proud Cleveland Heights resident siince 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.