As you can see from the following chart, Hilliard Schools receives 33% of its funding, or $46 million, from the State of Ohio.
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It has been growing at a pretty good pace...
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... although not as fast as the local component of our funding - paid via our property taxes. The State funding on a per-student basis has risen as well...
...although this is partially an artifact of the phase-out of Personal Property Tax revenue as a Local source and being replaced by a temporary reimbursement by the State. The one-time money granted as part of the Federal stimulus programs also was fed to school districts via the State.
Regardless of these aberrations, the story here is Rep. John Carey, vice chairman of the House Finance Committee, saying that "there is growing support of a tiered cut." So what does that mean?
Ohio's school funding system is, and has been for decades, based on one key principle: that the pool of State dollars budgeted for school funding should be passed out in hunks inversely proportional to the affluence of a particular school district. In other words, the people and businesses in affluent districts pay boatloads of State income (and other) taxes, but most of that money will be used to fund the poorer districts of the State.
I don't have a huge philosophical problem with that. Some might argue that there should be no State income taxes (there wasn't until the 1970s), and that communities should have to provide the entire funding necessary to operate a public system, without any help from others.
That position ignores two key points: a) the Ohio Constitution requires the state government to take what action is necessary so that every child in Ohio has the opportunity for a "thorough and efficient education;" and, b) the school district boundaries drawn 100 years ago have created opportunities for regions to fracture into communities of "haves" and "haves-not" that were not anticipated when the public school system was conceived.
Because of that, we tend to have urban districts with high commercial property values and high poverty levels, and suburban districts lacking significant commercial revenue sources, but the ability to fund their districts completely with local resources.
Why do I say "fund their districts completely?" Because if you take Hilliard for example, we - according to a report generated by Larry Wolpert when he was our State Representative - pay out two dollars of income taxes for every dollar of school funding we receive back. If that ratio is still true today, then we pay out around $70 million in State income taxes in order to get back $35 million in State funding. It would be worse - Dublin gets back about 12 cents on the dollar.
We can't put too much weight on this analysis. After all, there are others important ways in which our State income tax dollars are spent - notably for Medicaid and to run our prison systems. But you get the point. If you combine what we pay in State income tax and local property tax, it is more than sufficient to run our schools. As a friend once said, we pay enough taxes to run our school district plus a couple of the little ones.
That's not going to end with the Kasich administration. Instead, we need to prepare ourselves for the likelihood that we'll bear a disproportionate share of the cuts, simply because we are seen to have the capacity to do so. And it's simple for the state lawmakers to implement, all they have to do is tweak the Educational Challenge Factors, which are encoded into the law as ORC 3306.051 (an easier to read list of the ECFs is available here). These factors range from about 0.7 to 1.7, and they are used as a scaling factor in the PASS calculation used to determine how much State funding a district receives. The smaller the ECF, the smaller the fraction of the calculated funding a district will be granted. Our ECF is 0.985085.
The state lawmakers will also likely have to tinker with what is often called "the Guarantee." In the PASS calculation, it is called "Support Provided During Transition to Revised Funding Model." What that really means is that anytime the lawmakers change the school funding system, there are winners and losers. This "Guarantee" softens the blow for the losers, which makes such changes easier to get passed in the General Assembly.
The Guarantee is more of an ax compared to the ECF's scalpel, but both will be used.
And we'll take the hit. The current Five Year Forecast is built on the assumption that our hit will be 10%. The size of the levy we just voted to put on the ballot was passed in part because of that assumption.
If we take a bigger hit - and I fear we will - our Forecast goes out the window, and we'll have to scramble to figure out how to bring spending into alignment with even less revenue. I would have preferred to have used a larger temporary levy to give us some wiggle room, but we've ended up with a Permanent Levy of 6.9 mills on the ballot.
Between now the May election, we'll find out what the Governor and General Assembly have in store for us. Let's hope the 10% assumption is in the ballpark.