Critics: Kasich funding plan stiffs many schools

ANN SANNER DAN SEWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Ques-tions remained Wednesday about Gov. John Kasich's new school funding plan, with critics charging that many public schools, including in poor districts, will be shortchanged even though the Republican insisted his proposal was focused on helping students.

Kasich defended the plan during his State of the State speech Tuesday night in Lima, saying it has a "common-sense" focus on helping those who don't have the resources to help themselves.

"The simple fact of the matter is we're going to have to work together to make sure that we are moving our resources to those districts that have unique students, that are not as wealthy, those districts that do not have the population; we've got to do it together because the current system is not serving the boys and girls in our state as effectively as we could be doing it," Kasich said.

He repeated that the plan he unveiled last month in the latest state effort to resolve Ohio school funding inequities and help poor school districts and special needs students while adding $1.2 billion in funds over the next two years.

But some Democratic officials and education leaders have questioned Kasich's description, saying it doesn't offset earlier cuts to schools and it leaves most schools, including many poor districts, without additional dollars. They also question the plan's increased support for charter schools and expansion of private-school vouchers.

"The governor says he is increasing funding for education, but that's an empty promise," Ohio Education Association President Patricia Frost-Brooks said in a statement.

Georgetown Schools Superintendent Christopher Burrows said Wednesday that he remains hopeful about the governor's plan, even though his southern Ohio district is among many in the state's economically struggling Appalachian region not projected immediately for any additional state base funding.

"Obviously, it wasn't something we did a toe touch about," Burrows said of the funding. "But in the same breath, I still have the same excitement as long as this Straight A plan, the innovation plan, sticks in the Legislature."

The $300 million statewide fund would reward efficiency and innovation, and Burrows said he thinks his district could benefit by using technology to improve education and save money. He said he still has some questions about details of Kasich's plan, but he thinks it's better than simply "throwing money at a problem and expecting it to get better."

State Rep. Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, said in a statement that Kasich's formula "just gives up on public schools," and added after the speech that there's a lot of work still to be done on equalizing school funding in the state.

"You know there are almost 400 schools who received zero percent increase, and school districts like Olentangy (one of the state's wealthier) got a 300 percent increase," Fedor said. "I'd like to see how that all worked out, and hopefully, we can do something about it."

Kasich said Tuesday the proposed funding represents "a period in transition" and that his proposal ensures no school district will receive less state base funding than last year for the near term.

House Speaker William Batchelder, a Republican from Medina, said after the speech that he still considered Kasich's schools plan "well-conceived."

"Now, how it will work out and what aberrations there may be in different school districts -- we don't know," Batchelder said, adding that the plan "may require certain finessing and working with."

Among those unhappy with what they've seen so far: Franklin City Schools Superintendent Arnol Elam, who last week called on district parents to join an active campaign to prevent Kasich and his legislative allies from being re-elected. Elam was upset that his district just north of Middletown in southwest Ohio is slated for no additional state base funding in the Kasich plan while three wealthier neighboring districts would get increases.

"Frankly, this is both unfair and unbelievable," Elam wrote to district parents. His letter prompted the Warren County prosecutor to say his office is investigating whether Elam improperly used public resources to campaign.

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Sanner reported from Lima, Ohio.

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Contact Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell

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