Olentangy Valley News

Olentangy optimistic on Kasich's funding plan

School leaders say new plan probably won't increase state funding much, but won't lower it, either

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Olentangy Local School District officials say they're relieved to hear Gov. John Kasich's new school funding plan won't cut state aid to the district.

Details on the new statewide funding plan, unveiled last Thursday, Jan. 31, were reviewed during an Olentangy school board meeting the same night.

Board member Julie Wagner Feasel said she was "pleasantly surprised" by a plan Kasich said would provide more-equitable funding for poor and rural districts and expand scheduling options for districts.

"I was hearing a lot of scary things that really would have upset the apple cart here at Olentangy," Feasel said.

That didn't happen; Kasich said no district would lose funding dollars under the new plan.

About $7 million of Olentangy's $150 million budget is funded by the state.

Feasel pointed out Olentangy has lost plenty of state funding lately; since fiscal year 2005, per-pupil funding to the district has dropped 41 percent.

In addition to a pledge to refrain from cuts, Kasich promised extra funding for specific programs to serve gifted students, disabled students and non-English speakers.

Feasel speculated some of that extra funding could go to Olentangy.

But Superintendent Wade Lucas warned any funding uptick will be meager for the relatively wealthy district. Kasich pledged richer districts will get less, and poorer districts will get more -- though a per-district breakdown of funding levels wasn't yet available.

"We might get a peanut from the whole peanut-butter pie, but at least we'll continue to get what we used to have," Lucas said.

In all, the $15.1 billion education plan would boost state funding to schools by 6 percent in the 2013-14 school year, and by another 3.2 percent in the 2014-15 school year.

Lucas also highlighted chances for Olentangy to capture additional funding by applying for new grants that would be available under Kasich's plan.

That includes $3 million to be set aside for "innovation" grants.

"I think they're going to award innovation, creativity, shared services and internal investment," Lucas said.

He added: "You can't deny the fact that we have one of the highest-performing districts at one of the lowest costs, and we'll continue provide that high-quality education, so we need to get some good grant-writers to tap into some of those funds."

Olentangy officials said other parts of the plan are more certain to positively impact Olentangy, including a provision to give districts more scheduling flexibility to help students prepare for college and careers.

Instead of mandating students be in class 184 days per year, they will have to complete a set number of hours of schooling.

"Our schedule may not look like Worthington's schedule. It will just depend on what's best for each school district," Feasel said.

The proposed plan also includes a sweeping new voucher program to help families with incomes below 200 percent of the state poverty line -- about $46,100 for a family of four -- to send their children to a private school.

Kasich is the fourth governor to try to fix Ohio's property tax-based school funding method since it was declared unconstitutional in 1997 for favoring rich districts over poor ones.

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