Schools Brace For State Funding Cuts

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Districts have been warned to expect cuts in state funding of 10 to 20 percent. Perhaps no group is more worried than the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. Russ Harris is a consultant with the OEA . “A cut of that magnitude would be absolutely devastating. There’s just no other way to characterize it. Even if you took a 7 or 8 or 10 percent cut in state dollars, but then did not replace the monies from the stimulus that were put in by the previous administration, that would amount to a 20 percent cut or so,” Harris says.

And there are rumors of a plan that would institute a tiered cut, which could mean that poorer schools which rely more on state funding could take a bigger hit to their budgets more than wealthy districts. Damon Asbury is with the Ohio School Boards Association.

“We certainly will be working with the legislators to make it as equitable as possible. That is obviously a major concern. Just an across the board cut would have that effect as well as some sort of tiered approach. I think tiering is not bad in and of itself – it’s how the tiers are determined,” Asbury says.

And an interest that may be a little lost in the discussion is public charter schools, which get state funding to operate in Ohio’s eight urban areas but don’t get state-paid vouchers.

Bill Sims is the president at CEO of the Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools, and he says his 162 member schools need all they can get from the state. “They don’t have local property tax recourse, so any cuts that come in state funding, those are the cuts that address the entirety of what charter schools get in terms of per-pupil funding. So we are encouraging the governor to hold firm on our current funding, which is about $5700 per kid,” Sims says.

Gov. John Kasich said often during his campaign that he wants more dollars in the classroom. Asbury says conversations like these often lead to proposals that districts share services, or smaller districts combining administrative costs. His association represents school boards in big and small districts, and says it doesn’t always work.

“The often-quoted statement that people spend more per pupil for expenditures on administrative costs in smaller districts’ is obviously true, because you have a smaller base of students. But in reality, those small districts spend less money in total expenditures than the larger districts and get equal or better results,” Asbury says.

And Sims says among charter schools, trimming administrative costs to deal with a budget cut really isn’t an option.

“In order to absorb a budget cut of 10-15%, a charter school with a very lean administration, compared to a district with 30, 40, 50-thousand students – there isn’t the kind of bureaucracy that can help absorb those kinds of cuts,” Sims says.

And Harris from the OEA says with the kind of cuts the state is talking about, the whole topic doesn’t make sense.

“Well, it’s very hard to understand in a sense the contradictory statements of cutting education funding 10, 20% and then to actually have more dollars go into the classroom. About 80 to 85% of the costs of a local school district goes directly into personnel costs anyway,” Harris says.

The experts all say they’re anxiously looking forward to seeing what’s in store for them in Gov. Kasich’s budget, which is due to lawmakers on March 15.

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