Reynoldsburg City Schools officials appear cautiously optimistic that a proposed new state funding formula would be good for the district -- if it can make it through the legislative process.

The Ohio Fair School Funding Plan, a bipartisan formula co-sponsored in the Ohio House of Representatives by state Reps. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and John Patterson (D-Jefferson) would provide a 10.5% funding increase -- $720 million -- over two years for day-to-day operations and additional services for students statewide. It calls for $400 million more in state support for public schools next year, plus another $320 million in 2021.

Simulations show that under the proposal, Reynoldsburg would receive an additional $3.9 million in fiscal 2020 and $3.2 million in 2021, district Treasurer Tammy Miller said.

However, the proposal is working its way through the legislative process, and Miller warned that the "unknowns of potential changes make it difficult to make any predictions or projections."

School districts cannot limit their enrollment growth, but the state can and has limited the percentage of additional funding it is willing to give to growing districts -- including Reynoldsburg, which is among several central Ohio school districts that are capped by the current state funding formula.

Ohio's existing funding formula calculates how much the state will pay each district based on enrollment. The formula provides additional funding for students in certain categories -- for instance, those who have limited proficiency in English, those who are considered economically disadvantaged and those who are in special-education classes.

However, the state budget for education does not include enough money to cover every district once the per-pupil and category calculations are made. That's when caps are applied.

In Reynoldsburg, that amounts to $3 million to $4 million annually that the schools otherwise would receive, according to district officials.

Reynoldsburg Board of Education President Joe Begeny said the proposed new funding formula shouldn't be looked at as "more" money for a district that has been shortchanged by the state.

The new formula "is actually the correct funding; it's not additional funding," Begeny said.

"This has been missing in the state of Ohio since the 1990s," he said. "The plan looks at what it would take to educate the average student in the average district and how to use those funds to give the students what they need rather than being unfair to those districts like Reynoldsburg."

Developed over 15 months by a committee of school superintendents, fiscal officers and lawmakers, the Ohio Fair School Funding Plan proposes significantly more money for schools than is included in Gov. Mike DeWine's initial two-year operating budget, which called for $250 million more the first year, plus another $50 million in year two to be funneled to schools based on poverty concentrations.

The new formula aims to reduce funding caps and guarantees that are in place for most schools in Ohio and instead takes into account the actual costs of running a district, including student-teacher ratios, the cost of materials, technology needs and student populations, such as special education and English learners.

According to information from the district, about 12% of Reynoldsburg students have limited proficiency in English -- an increase from 6.8% last year -- and more than 11% are students with disabilities.

More money from the state likely would pay for expanded services for all the district's 7,500 students, Begeny said.

It also could help make all-day kindergarten a reality in Reynoldsburg, he said.

Reynoldsburg received $38.4 million from the state this year, about half of its total funding, officials said.

Last February, the school board unanimously approved a resolution opposing the current state funding formula, calling it unconstitutional.

According to the resolution, the money Reynoldsburg schools do not receive from the state because of funding caps is "roughly the amount of a 6.8-mill levy, which is "a major factor in the district's need to return to taxpayers for additional revenues."

District projections show Reynoldsburg schools will start to see expenditures exceed revenues around the 2021-22 school year.

"We haven't been on the ballot since 2010," Begeny said. "The district has been managing its money quite well, but Reynoldsburg suffers unjustly from the current funding system.

"This isn't a Republican or Democratic issue," he said. "The reality is, this is an investment in the future of Ohio."

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