Any time a piece of legislation receives overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, there is something to cheer. That is exactly what happened last week when the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 305, or the Fair School Funding Plan, a bill to fix Ohio's broken public school funding formula. The vote was 87-9. Upon passage, the chamber broke out in applause.
We applaud the House. The Ohio Senate needs to follow suit before it adjourns in two weeks. Otherwise this process will have to start all over again in January and that makes little sense given enormous bipartisan support for the bill, not to mention the number of homeowners who continue to shoulder the burden for legislative inaction.
In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the formula used to fund public schools was unconstitutional. It has been upheld multiple times since the original ruling, which stated public school funding was too reliant on property taxes.
HB 305, introduced in 2019, by now Speaker of the House Robert Cupp (R-Lima) and Rep. John Patterson (D-Jefferson) sought to establish a system that’s fairer and more transparent by not relying exclusively on property values and taxes to determine district revenue capacity. The new formula would use 60% property values and 40% income to calculate a district’s state money.
A companion bill was introduced in the Ohio Senate. However, neither it nor the House bill is scheduled for a vote before the Senate.
The issue that seems to have stalled Senate action is cost, which could be as high as $2 billion on top of the $10 billion the state currently spends to fund public schools. However, that amount will be negotiated next year as part of the budget process. The House and Senate bills sought to address the unconstitutionality of the process, not the dollar amount.
It is extremely unfortunate that someone issued a memo saying costs would be much higher, as much as $3.5 billion. Supporters said the cost figure was both erroneous and outrageous.
What is true is the state's budget is being squeezed by the COVID epidemic. Incoming Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and Finance Chair Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) share concerns about the potential cost. So do supporters of HB 305. Dolan said he prefers to roll discussion about school funding into the budget process next year.
Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering), who cosponsored the Senate bill, said a vote now determines if this is the right framework to fund schools. She acknowledged that decisions on dollar amounts are very important and will be part of the budget process next year.
So why isn't the Senate voting on the formula now? How much longer will Ohio's kids – and property owners – have to wait? Cupp said, “This is the time, this is the moment to fulfill our promise to all of Ohio’s students.
We agree and urge senators to vote on the formula now.
While your kids and grandkids pen their letters to Santa, we urge readers to write their senators and urge them to approve the proposed new formula. Westshore readers can contact Dolan at https://ohiosenate.gov/senators/dolan/contact. Lorain County readers can contact Sen. Nathan Manning at https://ohiosenate.gov/senators/manning/contact.