A potential new formula for Ohio schools could be coming -- and the change would be a welcome one for the Olentangy Local School District.
A bipartisan funding formula proposed by the Ohio House would provide a 10.5 percent funding increase -- $720 million -- over two years for day-to-day operations and additional services for students.
For Olentangy, the change would mean an estimated bump of 218 percent, bringing the district's state funding from about $9 million to $19.5 million.
Olentangy board member Julie Wagner Feasel said the idea is a wonderful one and praised lawmakers for "even attempting to create a new formula."
"No one else has even had the guts to do it, and we really appreciate it," she said.
The increase seems like a big one, especially for a district in an area with high average incomes, but Feasel said the percentage increase does not tell the full story.
"Olentangy has been underfunded for years," she said. "So when people hear 200 percent, they think, 'What? This wealthy district is getting all this money?' But we've been getting just over $500 per pupil when the average is $4,000. So it just never made sense for us."
Feasel said the district was informed April 1 that the changes would take longer for Olentangy and Columbus schools because of their rapid growth and size, respectively.
Rather than two years, their changes would take six years if the bill is passed, she said.
"Olentangy has the growth and Columbus has the most amount of pupils, so we're kind of the oddballs," she said, "but I can understand that."
She said a 1-mill levy would be expected to bring $4.2 million to the district, so for Olentangy to gain anywhere near $10 million in state funding would be a windfall for the district and an assistance to taxpayers. The state funding also could not be used for building construction.
"I don't want people to think, 'They'll never have to pass another levy ever again,' because that's not the case," she said. "But will it be 7.5 mills? Probably not. ... But because we'll have to ask for future dollars, that's local tax relief for our residents."
The plan calls for $400 million more in funding next year, plus another $320 million in 2021. That would be significantly more than what Gov. Mike DeWine proposed in his initial two-year operating budget, which called for $250 million more the first year, plus another $50 million in year two, funneled to schools based on poverty concentration.
The totals released for the House plan March 29 don't yet include charter-school funding, which easily could add tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to the total.
Stephen Dyer, a former Democratic lawmaker and now an education-policy fellow with Innovation Ohio, a Columbus-based liberal think tank, has been a consistent critic of funding plans under the administration of former Gov. John Kasich. But he said this one "remains the biggest hope we've had in years. ... I like where we're headed, but there's still a lot to do."
Dyer cites several issues to be worked out, such as whether the major percentage increases in funding for wealthier suburban districts can be ironed out. And the three districts currently under state takeover -- Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland -- and a fourth that is next up, Dayton, all are getting no new money.
"I'm very hopeful we can have a formula that all kids deserve," Dyer said.
Feasel said she knows there's a long way to go before the proposed changes are approved by the Ohio government, but said she hopes the process is, at the very least, highlighting the issues with school funding.
"I truly believe that if we put money into education, down the line, you would hope that would be less money you'd have to put in incarceration and medication," she said. "For too long, the state has been underfunding education. This looks like a really good step in the right direction.
"I would hope the General Assembly doesn't just pooh-pooh this because they don't want to step up and appropriately fund education."
The Columbus Dispatch reporters Jim Siegel and Maggie Prosser contributed to this story.