The House Finance Committee released Wednesday its projected spending levels for its proposed $5.23-billion, 1998-1999 school year budget. The plan eliminates an "equity fund" that gave extra dollars to state's 297 poorest districts and created an "adequacy fund" that funnels more money to the state's 408 lowest wealth school systems.
The plan, incorporated in House Bill 650, is being considered the first step by state lawmakers to comply with an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that required the state's school funding system to be overhauled. The bill seeks to provide the 204 poorest districts with at least $4,000 per student in combined state and local dollars next school year.
"I'd like to think of this as a building block," said Rep. Tom Johnson, the bill's sponsor.
The bill makes two significant adjustments to the funding scheme. It raises the amount of basic aid provided to each student from $3,663 to $3,780. The $210-million adequacy fund then gives the poorest districts another $220 per student and provides additional dollars to the middle 204 districts to give them somewhere between $4,000 and $3,780 to spend per pupil.
All Portage County school districts receive increases in aid. Waterloo schools gets the highest percentage increase at 7.6 percent while Windham schools gets the smallest at .5 percent more.
Kent schools would receive a 3.6-percent increase bringing state aid to $9.7 million and Ravenna schools would get a 5.8-percent hike taking state aid to $8.6 million.
Aurora schools would get a 1.6-percent increase, Crestwood schools would get 7.2 percent more, Field schools would get one percent more, James A. Garfield schools would get 5.6 percent more, Rootstown schools would get a 6.2-percent hike, Southeast schools would get 1.8 percent more and Streetsboro schools would see a 3.6 percent increase.
Tim Keen, House Republican financial officer, said school systems may be losing money if they are experiencing a decrease in enrollment, are not applying for the same level of special education funds as the prior year or have significant increases in local property value.
The state is coming up with the additional dollars for new schools by cutting other government spending by $100 million. State agencies received up to three-percent reductions in their spending and the percentage of cut varies from department to department.
Office of Budget and Management Director Greg Browning told the finance committee the administration could absorb a $100-million decrease in a $36.1-billion, two-year budget. He praised Johnson, R-New Concord, for allowing the administration to determine what cuts it can make within agencies to reach the figure rather than prescribe exact directions on how to reduce spending.
"We will be held accountable for good-decision making," he
said. "We have agreed that $100 million is manageable."
State Rep. Rose Vesper, R-New Richmond, was among lawmakers complaining about the cuts to agency budgets telling Browning that even relatively small slices to agencies such the Department of Mental Health could have significant consequences to mental health programs in her southern Ohio district.
Vesper asked Browning whether the administration considered accepting a reduction to the state's "rainy day" fund which now has more than $860 million. Browning said Gov. George Voinovich is adamantly opposed to dipping into the rainy day fund.
The administration has until next July to determine exactly how it will cut the $100 million. Meanwhile, Johnson said he will reconvene Jan. 6 and consider revisions to the proposal suggested by committee members.