Governor John Kasich’s decision to take his second State of
the State address on the road has been big news in Ohio (see here).  More interesting than the history (Kasich is
the first governor to deliver the address outside of Columbus) is that he will
be delivering his speech at Steubenville’s high performing Wells Academy, which
has long been lauded by the Education Trust as a “Dispelling the
school. One hopes the choice of venue is matched by a focus on needed
reforms in education.

Governor Kasich and legislative Republicans delivered some
sizeable reforms in the state’s biennial budget last June. But there is much
left to be done. The most pressing issue facing the state is putting in place a
proper school funding plan. The biennial budget dismantled the state’s
ill-conceived move toward an evidence-based model of school funding and
promised a new funding formula before the next biennium. The governor and his
team need to deliver.

Fordham has long-advocated (with
many others
) for a move toward a weighted, student-based funding system
based on three key principles:

  • Full state funding (and, properly encouraged,
    local funding) follows the child to the school the he or she attends, including
    charter schools. (This could also be extended, voucher-like, to private schools
    willing to participate fully in the state’s academic accountability system.)
  • Per-pupil amounts vary according to children’s
    individual learning needs and circumstances. For example, disabled and economically
    disadvantaged youngsters would have additional dollars in their “funding backpacks.”
  • Resources arrive at the school as real dollars
    that can be spent flexibly with an emphasis on results, rather than on
    predetermined programs, rigid staffing rations (or number of positions), and
    immutable activities.

Weighted student funding equitably directs more funds to
schools that serve high proportions of needy children, regardless of where they
live, and it ensures that a student’s school receives all of the resources
generated by that student, whether it’s a district neighborhood school, a
magnet school, a STEM school, or a charter school and regardless of whether it
is located in a poor or affluent neighborhood, a tranquil suburb or a tough
urban neighborhood. Weighted student funding enables school leaders and other
educators to deploy available resources in ways that meet the needs of their
specific pupils, aligning authority and responsibility in a modern,
performance-oriented management system, and making resources flexible even as
their total quantity may be reduced. WSF also fosters accountability, for if
fewer children enroll in a school, its budget shrinks, which gives management
and staff strong incentives to improve their school’s effectiveness.

A weighted student funding system would encourage
flexibility, as Ohio schools would be free to determine how to use their funds.

Of course, when it comes to school funding, lawmakers always
look to the bottom line: What will the new formula mean for schools in my legislative
district? Here, Governor Kasich and lawmakers should bite the bullet and find
some new money for schools to assist in the transition to a more effective
system of funding. They wouldn’t be alone among Republicans. Florida’s Governor
Rick Scott, for example, urged lawmakers in his January 10 State of the State
to boost spending on education. He argued, “While lowering taxes and
eliminating unnecessary regulations are critical, the bedrock of any sound,
sustainable economy is an educated workforce well equipped to meet the
challenges of an advanced global marketplace.” Governor Scott is seeking $1
billion more annually for schools.

Governor Kasich should follow Scott’s lead, but
attach all new money to a new funding formula that pushes innovation, equity
for schools of choice, and more control of decision making for the educators
closest to the kids. 

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