Gov. Mike DeWine received a lot of feedback from advocacy groups on the final education budget as he spent the day before a holiday reading through a 1,200-page document discussing line-item vetoes.
Following a last-week agreement by the leaders of the Ohio House and Senate conference committee, the education budget was given to DeWine with a three-day extension on the last day of the month, which was the initial deadline for budget passage. Education organisations and some members of the Ohio State Board of Education had already submitted notes recommending vetoes and justifying their opposition to some elements of the education budget before it even reached the governor’s desk late Sunday night.
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The largest teacher unions in Ohio, the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the Ohio Education Association, joined forces with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and policy advocacy group Policy Matters Ohio to applaud an increase in state funding that was included in the final education budget via the Ohio House’s version but also to voice their opposition to the expansion of private school vouchers.
The organisations, which are all a part of a coalition called “All in for Ohio Kids,” referred to the nearly $1 billion increase in public school funding as part of a phase-in of the Fair School Funding Plan as “a monumental step forward,” taking into account multiple decisions in DeRolph v. Ohio, in which the state’s highest court declared the public education system in Ohio to be unconstitutional.
The legislature is on the verge of fulfilling its constitutional obligation to fairly fund Ohio’s public schools, the coalition said in a statement. This comes after decades of non-compliance with Ohio Supreme Court orders.
Unfortunately, the funding increases don’t detract from the “serious concerns” the coalition claimed it had concerning private school vouchers. These concerns included current statistics accounting for the real-time costs of education for pupils with disabilities and those for whom English is not their first language. In the compromise education budget, private school scholarships were nearly universally available to those earning up to 450% of the federal poverty level, or $135,000 for a family of four.
The total value of the awards is $6,165 for K–8 students and $8,407 for high school students. But even for families making more than $135,000 a year, financial assistance is still available.
The office of Senate President Matt Huffman stated in presenting the revised education budget that “scholarships for students in families within incomes above 450% will be means-tested with scholarship amounts adjusted based on their income.” “No matter their family’s income, every student in Ohio will be eligible for a scholarship worth at least 10% of the maximum scholarship.”
The programme “is designed to safeguard lower-income families and offers options beyond traditional public schools,” according to a statement from the House Majority leadership. The voucher “scheme,” in contrast, is viewed by teacher unions and advocacy groups as a means of “ensuring that state support for our public schools will be diminished to pay for tuition for private school students, regardless of how wealthy their family is or how their school performs.”
The organisation argued that instead of increasing unaccountable private school vouchers, “priority should be given to fully implementing the Fair School Funding Plan so that our public schools, where 90% of students attend school, receive the resources they need.”
Preschool And Daycare
Even before K–12 education became a factor, child welfare advocates at Groundwork Ohio claim that more might have been done to advance child care and preschool within the budget. The group applauded the restoration of $47 million in child care and preschool appropriations that the Senate version of the education budget had cut, but referred to the loss of previous COVID-era federal money as a “massive cliff” that won’t be taken into account in the new budget.
According to a budget analysis by Groundwork, if the state’s publicly funded child care can’t accommodate new children with the new funding, it could cause the state to “continue to lag behind the rest of the nation as we only will now offer public support to a family of three making at or below $16.05 per hour when the average cost of infant care is well over $11,000 per year across the state.”
The group stated in a statement that after years of parents, professionals, and community leaders raising the warning, “the stark reality is that Ohio’s child care system is no more stable with this budget today than yesterday, and the problem only gets worse.” The school meal programme is one area of schooling that has improved. Nutrition advocates are relieved that the expanded school meal programmes, which the Senate had eliminated in the last education budget draught, were reinstated as a result of the conference committee deliberations.
If DeWine doesn’t make any unexpected changes, the new state budget will reimburse school districts so that any child qualified for free or reduced lunch can receive breakfast and lunch at no cost, provided the school takes part in the National School Breakfast or Lunch Programme.
According to Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, “Ohio should be incredibly proud of this step to expand access to free breakfast and lunch for our students, which will directly support working families and which acknowledges that adequate nutrition is an essential part of every child’s ability to learn, grow, and fulfil their potential.”
Not just advocacy organisations opposed the addition of provisions that would have divided the Ohio Department of Education into the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, placed the department under the governor’s office’s control, and constrained the State Board of Education.
The day after DeWine received the budget, seven board members sent him a letter requesting that he block the expansion of the voucher programme as well as the “power grab” of modifying the functions of the state board.
The State Board of Education is replaced by an appointed director who reports to the governor and the legislature as a result of the education budget, according to a letter from board members Christina Collins, Teresa Fedor, Katie Hofman, Tom Jackson, Meryl Johnson, Michelle Newman, and Antoinette Miranda. The board’s authority would now mostly be restricted to teacher discipline and licensure matters, as well as territory conflicts, according the Senate plan that is currently part of the budget.
The creation of a new director job for the ODEW “may increase annual costs by up to $254,000,” while the creation of two deputy directors, one for education and the other for workforce, “may increase costs from $151,000 to $189,000 for each position,” according to the Legislative Service Commission. In a “standalone budget” created only for the board, the state board would get $14.4 million in fiscal year 2024 and $14.7 million in the following fiscal year.