COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Education funding in Ohio is subject to substantial change under the Ohio House’s proposed biennial budget.

From expanding private school voucher eligibility to increasing the state minimum teacher salary, the budget proposed by state lawmakers builds upon some key aspects of Gov. Mike DeWine’s initial proposal while reducing – and sometimes eliminating – others. Still in its early stages, the budget’s impact on individual school districts remains unclear, but it’s a promising start, said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association.

Crucially, to the OEA, the House’s budget updates the calculations used to determine the per-student base cost, and the funding amount necessary to provide an “average child” with high-quality education. Under DeWine’s proposal, the base cost is set using calculations from 2018 – amounting to out-of-date and insufficient totals, DiMauro said.

Using 2022 calculations, the House’s budget increases the per-student base cost to $8,241, more than a 10% increase from DeWine’s $7,352.

Part of that base cost increase includes a boost to the minimum teacher salary, something for which the OEA has advocated for years. Under the House’s budget, teacher salaries must exceed $40,000, up from the current $30,000 floor. 

According to the Legislative Service Commission’s fiscal analysis of the budget, about 16,800 teachers currently make under $40,000, whose salary raises will amount to more than $79 million each year in increased state spending. Although the OEA has lobbied for $50,000 minimum salaries, DiMauro said he’s glad to see the increase.

“We know that there is a challenge in recruiting and retaining the very best in our classrooms as Ohio, like other states, is facing an educator shortage,” DiMauro said. “Raising the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 is a really important step in addressing that gap.”

School meals, mitigating poverty: Budget edits reflect the Fair School Funding Plan

Other budget changes further embody components of the Fair School Funding Plan, including student wellness initiatives and consideration of poverty’s impact on education. The House has earmarked $500,000 for the Ohio Department of Education to study the needs of economically disadvantaged students and the most effective services to meet those needs, something the Fair School Funding workgroup recommended in 2019.

The House has also heeded calls to increase school meal funding, allocating more than $13 million each year and dwarfing DeWine’s proposed $8.9 million. The School Meal Programs fund will make breakfast and lunch free for all eligible students at public and charter schools participating in the National School Breakfast or Lunch Program and will be used to reimburse school buildings required to have a school breakfast program. 

“We know that students will learn best if their basic needs are met, including making sure that they have healthy meals that will set them up for success in the classroom,” DiMauro said.

The newly proposed budget earmarks up to $772,713 each fiscal year to reimburse Advanced Placement and College Level program testing costs for students whose family income falls below the statewide median. All but $150,000 of that allotment must be used to directly reimburse low-income students, whose eligibility will be determined by the state department.

Where DeWine and the House diverge

While the House appears to have accepted much of DeWine’s proposed education budget – including nearly identical allotments for overall operating expenses, career-technical education equipment and child nutrition funds – it changes others.

Most significantly, the House slashed DeWine’s lofty proposal for improving literacy, setting aside $74.4 million in FY24 and $36.8 million in FY25. As part of a larger campaign to boost literacy rates in the state, DeWine suggested allocating $115.8 million to literacy improvements in FY24 and more than $58 million in FY25.

Legislators also nixed DeWine’s promise of funding school resource officer salaries for every school building that wants one. Instead of the $194 million DeWine set aside being given to districts to use more flexibly — as critics of the school resource officer provision have suggested — the House eliminates the funds entirely.

The House has implemented policies of its own, including the allocation of $1 million to pilot a program for Educational Service Centers (ESC) to provide transportation to charter and private schools, instead of school districts bearing that burden. Under the pilot, one school district in the 2023-24 school year will waive its transportation requirement for students attending charter and private schools, while up to five ESCs will transport students instead. The Ohio Department of Education will analyze the program and report findings and recommendations by July 2024.

Other areas of the budget appear to incorporate proposed legislation impacting the Department of Education. The new proposal, for example, eliminates the mandatory retention under the Third Grade Reading Guarantee – which requires students to retake third grade if they don’t meet the state minimum reading score on the annual standardized achievement test, mirroring the goal of House Bill 117. The budget also requires any student who is held back for the 2023-24 school year solely because of their reading test score to be promoted to fourth grade.

To the OEA’s displeasure, the House appears to have struck a compromise between DeWine’s vision for EdChoice vouchers and Republicans calling for an even broader private school voucher program. The House’s budget increases eligibility for EdChoice to students whose family’s income is at or below 450% of the federal poverty line, up from DeWine’s proposed 400% cutoff.

The increase means that a family of four making $135,000 can receive vouchers to send their children to the public or charter school of their choice. It also means, according to the Legislative Services Commission, that funds for all of the state’s scholarship programs will increase $780 million in FY24 and nearly $850 million in FY25.

“We think that the governor’s proposal to increase the eligibility level was not the right way to go,” DiMauro said. “And knowing that this is primarily going to benefit families that have already been sending their children to private school, we think that that’s not a positive step, and we’re going to continue to advocate for the removal of that provision from the budget.”

The House’s release of its proposed budget is just another step in a long process – about “the second quarter of a four-quarter game,” DiMauro said. The House can still amend the budget before it makes its way to the Senate, and any changes there must be reconciled.