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Let’s get the facts straight on Ohio public school funding

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Let’s get the facts straight on Ohio public school funding

Feb 28, 2024 | 4:30 am ET
By Scott DiMauro
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Let’s get the facts straight on Ohio public school funding
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A high school science teacher holding a digital tablet and explaining a chemistry model to two of his students during class. (Getty Images.)

As a high school social studies teacher, I was always struck by what the then-future U.S. President John Adams said during the criminal trial following the Boston Massacre: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” 

The fact is that Ohio’s public schools serve nearly 90% of students in our state. And, despite recent claims that attempt to twist the truth around public school funding in Ohio, the evidence is clear: More work must be done to finally fully and fairly fund our public schools, so that every child — regardless of where they live, what they look like, or how much money their parents make — can receive the excellent education they deserve. 

The fact is that Ohio’s public schools are funded from the same line item in the state budget as private school vouchers. The last state budget did provide “record funding” for that line item, as indeed, anytime there’s an increase, that would set a new record.

As noted in recent news coverage, the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce doesn’t yet know how much the state’s new universal voucher program will cost this year. But, with the explosion in the number of wealthier families taking public taxpayer dollars to pay for private school tuition for students who were already attending private schools in the first place, it is clear the state’s spending on the universal voucher program will far exceed the original budget estimates.  

So, the fact is, when it comes time to pass the next state budget in 2025, that leaves less money in that line item for Ohio’s public schools. Exactly how much less and how will that impact public schools? It’s unclear. But, the uncertainty around those questions is causing school districts across the state to hold onto larger reserves to weather future state funding shortfalls, and in some cases, has prevented districts from feeling comfortable spending down the soon-to-expire federal pandemic-relief money that is currently inflating some of the figures.

In the end, that uncertainty is hurting our students, as money that should be used to recruit and retain public school educators, address students’ mental health needs, and make up for lost ground remains unspent.   

The Fair School Funding Plan, when fully implemented with updated formula components, should remove that uncertainty. Based on years of work and input from stakeholders across the board, the Fair School Funding Plan, which the state began phasing in in the FY 2022-23 budget, is meant to accurately account for how much it costs to educate a child and how much a local community can actually afford to pay toward that. And, it provides a predictable funding model, so school districts can accurately plan ahead.

If the Fair School Funding Plan is fully phased in in the next state budget, as it was always intended to be, Ohio would finally have a constitutional school funding formula for the first time since the state supreme court started telling the legislature to stop chronically underfunding our public schools and truly fix the problems back in 1997. 

Our lawmakers need to fulfill Ohio’s promise to our kids and commit to fully adopting the Fair School Funding Plan. They need to ensure that public tax dollars spent on private school vouchers come with the same academic and financial accountability as the dollars we spend on our public schools. They need to focus on providing the supports and resources our students need to succeed in a 21st century economy, because in Ohio, public education matters.