Chris Curme, For The Miami Student

Ohio Gov. John Kasich proposed a budget Thursday that aims to level the playing field among Ohio’s 613 school districts. The budget has yet to pass through either house of the state legislature.

The plan, called “Achievement Everywhere,” would provide $1.2 billion in total new funds for Ohio K-12 schools over fiscal years 2014-2015.

Kasich cites a stronger Ohio economy and added gambling revenue as primary sources for the boost.

Kasich has advocated that a zip code should not determine the quality of a child’s education in Ohio. His plan works to create equity among school districts and to increase accountability and performance.

“Core Opportunity Aid” accounts for over half of the fiscal year 2014-2015 formula funds. This aid ensures that every school district is funded as if its per-pupil property tax base were $250,000. Only four percent of Ohio school districts enjoy property values above that threshold, according to the proposal.

“Those [districts] that are wealthy will not receive as much [as poorer districts] from the state, because the burden will fall on tax payers that can afford to pay more,” Mike Davis, Treasurer of the Talawanda School Board and CFO of the Talawanda Board of Education, said.

According to Davis, Talawanda School District’s (TSD) average per-pupil property valuation in fiscal year 2011 was $221,700. Considering the state average of $140,500 over the same period, Davis said he believes TSD may fall in the highest quintile of property values and should not expect much additional funding.

Preliminary district funding estimates released by the Ohio Office of Budget and Management (OBM) project TSD will experience exactly no change in funding between fiscal year 2013 and fiscal year 2014.

Mark Morris, a visiting assistant professor of political science at Miami University, serves on a school board in Fairfield, Ohio. He declined to comment on how the plan may affect his district.

By the Ohio OBM’s estimates, Fairfield City School District should expect a 25 percent funding increase in fiscal year 2014 over fiscal year 2013, the largest in Butler County.

Kasich’s proposal states that no district will receive fewer state dollars than it did in fiscal year 2013.

“[Funding] can only go up; it can’t go down,” Davis said, “But I don’t know about 2015.”

These “Guarantee Funds” are a stopgap intended to protect school districts with eroding enrollment, according to Davis. School districts have a minimum funding threshold determined by a preset level of enrollment. If this level is not met, state dollars make up the difference.

According to Davis, Talawanda is already funded above its minimum and does not receive guarantee dollars.

“[This isn’t] because we’ve had significant growth, but because the formula keeps changing, and they keep ratcheting down what that guarantee threshold is.” Davis said.

Additionally, “Achievement Everywhere” proposes a $300 million “Straight A Fund” to which districts may apply for competitive, one-time grants. Kasich said the grants should be used to modernize facilities or find cost savings.

“This is what’s near and dear to my heart as a CFO,” Davis said, “is to achieve cost savings and invest those in the classroom.”

Davis said one measure of current inefficiency at Talawanda is its exceptionally high overhead cost, which pays 29 percent, about $900,000, more per pupil in administrative costs, than Ross, a similar school district.

If Talawanda were to receive a “Straight A” grant, Davis said he would like to see it go toward a quantitative investigation into TSD to get rid of waste and improve efficiency.

Whether the grants could fund new buildings, specifically a new Kramer Elementary, is a question that is currently unanswerable, according to Davis.

“If it’s not constructing brand new buildings, it’s certainly upkeep and maybe providing infrastructure to put in technology.” Davis said.

Davis said he also sees Kasich implementing a more private sector diagnostic approach toward school performance and transparency.

According to Davis, school districts will be ranked against similar Ohio districts, in wealth and enrollment, by their fiscal performance; individual schools will be ranked among similar schools by academic performance; and student performance will be tenuously linked to teacher performance.

Davis said he is unsure whether the increased level of funding will continue two years from now.

Morris said that although proposed education dollars have increased, schools are still funded well below levels of two years ago, when the education budget was cut by $1.8 billion. He said he does not expect this level of funding to be renewed in two years.

Along with the proposed formula for distributing K-12 funds is a change in how public university funds are rewarded. Completed degrees and other factors, rather than enrollment, would earn state dollars, by the proposed budget, according to Morris.

“Miami and all other state universities will have to respond to any new incentive system,” Morris said. “The question will become how do we get students to finish degrees and more quickly. There are many potential implications with this type of incentive starting with three-year Bachelor’s degrees.”