Tuesday, October 03, 2000

Ohio school money studied

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The state would increase funding to school districts by up to $700 million annually for three years under budget proposals being considered by Ohio's school board.

        Hoping to meet a court order to fix the way schools are funded, the Department of Education released three proposals for increasing the average amount of money the state provides for each student.

        A final proposal will be selected next month but still requires approval of Gov. Bob Taft and the Legislature.

        Current law calls for a base funding amount of $4,414 for the financial year beginning in 2002. That money covers basic educational needs but not special education, transportation and money for poor or gifted students.

        Using three models of school districts, the department is considering an increase to as much as $4,714 for that financial year.

        At the end of three years, a district could receive up to $5,556 per student under the most generous model.

        The least expensive model would cost an additional $460 million a year, the most expensive, an additional $706 million.

        One leading Republican lawmaker said the upper number might be extreme but that overall the figures are realistic.

        “We're all working on the same chapter, maybe not necessarily on the same page,” said Robert Gardner, R-Madison, the Senate education chairman.

        The department is trying to respond to decisions by the Ohio Supreme Court declaring the state's school-funding system unconstitutional because it relies too much on local property taxes, thereby creating disparities between rich and poor districts.

        The decisions are named for Nathan DeRolph, a Perry County high school student in whose name a 1991 lawsuit challenging the system was filed.

        While responding to the DeRolph decisions, the department's proposals are also an attempt to fund a quality education for every schoolchild, said Mike Spino, the department's chief of staff.

        The three models are based on the funding and spending patterns at districts that have met at least 20 of 27 state-mandated academic standards.

        The models also take into consideration teacher experience, the number of advanced placement classes and teacher-student ratios.

        “We started to narrow down the list to school districts that we feel people would be pretty comfortable basing a school-funding system on,” Mr. Spino said. “These are districts that look like you want your district to look like.”

        The department's proposals don't directly respond to all of the court's issues, including over-reliance on property taxes and the phenomenon of phantom revenue, whereby districts appear wealthier than they are because of rising real estate values.


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