After years of being denied millions of dollars as a result of state funding caps, some school districts are preparing to take legal action if lawmakers don’t address the shortfall.

“I am sorry to inform you that, if the legislature does not address the gain caps in this biennium budget, a group of districts will be filing a federal lawsuit,” Delaware City Schools Superintendent Paul Craft told the Senate Finance Committee on May 29.

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Craft was among a handful of district officials to testify, including those from Olentangy, Whitehall, Pickerington and Licking Heights, all of whom might be getting significantly less state funding than the current formula says they should receive.

The school-funding plan that was approved in the House as part of the two-year state operating budget does not address the funding caps. Instead, following Gov. Mike DeWine’s lead, the plan essentially leaves current funding in place with an additional $675 million over two years to districts based on student poverty concentrations. The funding is designed to support social and emotional services, such as counseling and after-school programs.

The Senate is expected to start making major changes to the budget next week, and those are likely to include more money to capped districts. Whether it goes far enough for those districts, including the 74 that lost at least $1 million this year, remains to be seen.

“It’s an obvious problem. It’s a very, very expensive solution,” said Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. This year alone, the cap cost districts an estimated $470 million, and Dolan says he understands the frustration.

“People are choosing to live in a school system that is growing, but their funding is based on a set year in the past,” he said. “Name any other business operation where we say, ‘We want you to expand, but you’re going to be paid what you got paid 10 years ago.’”

School officials urged lawmakers May 29 to adopt the so-called Cupp-Patterson funding plan, which was developed by a working group of school officials led by a pair of House members. It attempts to fund the true cost of educating a typical child, and includes no funding caps.

Districts that lost at least $7 million this year from the cap include Olentangy, Dublin, Westerville and New Albany. But it also includes lower-income districts such as Columbus, Licking Heights and Whitehall.

Whitehall treasurer Steve McAfee said his district has more than 80% low-income students, but the district is losing $9 million this year from the cap.

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