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State budget to include Ohio K-12 school funding overhaul

June 29, 2021 GMT
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, discusses the Senate passage of Ohio's two-year, $75 billion state budget, on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. Differences in how to pay for K-12 education are expected to dominate the next stage of deliberations, with the House and Senate taking different approaches to a long-term school funding solution. The two chambers must reconcile two versions of the budget by month's end. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, discusses the Senate passage of Ohio's two-year, $75 billion state budget, on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. Differences in how to pay for K-12 education are expected to dominate the next stage of deliberations, with the House and Senate taking different approaches to a long-term school funding solution. The two chambers must reconcile two versions of the budget by month's end. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A bipartisan school-funding plan in the works for years is back in Ohio’s upcoming state budget, under a compromise approved Monday by a joint legislative committee working out final details of the $75 billion spending plan.

The Republican-controlled House had included the education proposal known as the Fair School Funding Plan in its version of the budget passed in April. The plan, supported by multiple education advocacy groups, is meant to bring more reliability to annual school funding payments to districts.

The GOP-controlled Senate stripped the plan from its budget version approved earlier this month, saying its own proposal provided more money than the House plan over the next two years.

The budget approved by the House and Senate Monday night and sent to GOP Gov. Mike DeWine would provide about $10.9 billion for districts for the next two years, with an estimated per pupil cost of $7,202, according to an analysis by the Legislative Service Commission. Under the deal reached with the Senate, new per student calculations will be made in future budgets, and won’t be arrived at through an automatic funding formula.

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DeWine must sign the budget by July 1 and could veto some items, though he hasn’t indicated if anything is on the chopping block.

Restoration of the Fair School Funding Plan brought praise from school organizations.

“Enacting this funding model represents a generational investment that will thrust Ohio forward into an era of stable and predictable education budgets to help schools meet the needs of all students,” said Rick Lewis, CEO of the Ohio School Boards Association.

The Senate also included a plan that for the first time would require the state, not individual districts, to pay charter schools directly.

The budget compromise announced Monday keeps the direct payment to charter schools. Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, suggested that keeping such direct payments in the budget helped the two sides come together on the school funding plan. “Those things really cleared the picture,” he said.

The budget also increases the maximum amount for vouchers to attend private schools from $4,650 to $5,500 for children in grades K-8 and from $6,000 to $7,500 for high school students.

The final version of the budget also includes $250 million for a broadband access grant program meant to boost connections to high-speed internet in underserved areas. The state estimates 300,000 households and at least 1 million residents across Ohio lack broadband.

The Senate had removed the broadband funding after Huffman said there weren’t enough details on how the money would be spent for the Senate to support it.

Among other details in the final version of the budget, the plan:

— Provides a 3% personal income tax cut for Ohioans, a compromise between the House plan, which proposed a 2% cut, and the Senate, which wanted a 5% personal income tax cut. Democrats oppose the cut, saying it will benefit the wealthiest Ohioans. The budget also eliminates income tax payments for anyone earning $25,000 or less, up from a previous maximum of $22,150.

— Restores a requirement that publicly funded day cares must achieve a quality of care rating to be listed in the state system. The Senate removed the mandate, leading to an outcry of advocates for low-income families.

— Removes a Senate-added requirement that food stamp recipients must undergo an asset test that would have measured recipients’ total worth, including the value of cars owned by anyone in a household.

— Allots $170 million over two years for the state’s H2Ohio clean water initiative.

— Declares Juneteenth a state holiday in Ohio. The day commemorating June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free, was declared a national holiday earlier this month.