Senate Budget Makes Changes For Ohio's K-12 Schools

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The Ohio Senate’s version of the budget would provide more than 115 million dollars of extra funding to bolster K through 12 school funding over the two years of the budget. It increases the foundation formula for those schools and ensures each school district receives as much state foundation formula aid as they will receive this year. 30 million dollars of that increased spending would go to public schools that are performing above state standards. Senate President Tom Niehaus says senators decided to reward districts that were performing at excellent standards or above by giving them 17 extra dollars per student per year.

"Let’s reward excellence. We currently measure it. We just want to make sure we reward those people who achieve it."

The house passed budget lifted many restrictions on charter and e schools but the senate plan largely restores those. And it goes on to say that if a community school sponsor wants to sponsor new schools, it can do so only if 80 percent of the schools they already sponsor are performing well.

"We wanted to make sure that anyone who was starting a new school have a track record of being a very good or excellent provider. So that’s why the language was included was that we are going for excellence….whether it’s in teachers, whether it’s in school districts, whether it’s in charter schools, we are going for excellence."

The senate’s version of the budget strips out the merit pay features that were included in the house plan. Niehaus says the senate is still looking at how to reward good teachers but he wants to make sure that’s based on the federal race to the top requirements that many of Ohio’s schools are trying to meet.

"I believe this sort of removed anything that people suggested was related to senate bill five so that we could go back and look at it and make sure this was absolutely clear that this was about race to the top and nothing else."

Dale Butland, A spokesman for Innovation Ohio, a liberal think tank that’s opposed many of the provisions in the house passed budget, says this senate version is an improvement .

"Overall I’d have to say we take our hats off to the senate. By and large, we think this is a real positive step forward. Now the challenge is going to be to convince the house that these changes need to stay"

Butland says he’s encouraged that the senate stripped out controversial teacher merit pay language that is also part of the controversial collective bargaining bill Ohioans are likely to vote on this fall.

"We think senate bill 5 should get a clean up or down vote by the people of this state this fall. Secondly, they took out the indefensible amendments regarding charter schools that were inserted into the budget bill in the house at the specific request of David Brennan who’s a big contributor so that was good."

Butland says he is not happy with the 17 dollar per student payment the senate wants to give high performing schools. He sees it as a plus for wealthy schools at the expense of poor schools.

"If you have a limited amount of money to go around, it seems like instead of doing a reverse Robin Hood approach where you give to the wealthier districts that are already succeeding, it seems to me that we ought to be looking at the poorer districts that are facing bigger challenges."

The senate plans to send the bill to the senate floor for a vote later this week. The big challenge will be after that when senate and house leaders meet to hammer out their differences.

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