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  • Nick Bates

Fiscal Focus: K-12 Education

Each Fiscal Focus will look at our vision for key areas of public investment in Ohio and provide insight into current budgetary trends for that sector. All Ohioans are impacted by our elected officials’ budget decisions. In 2013, a new two-year state budget will be crafted – this series will provide a comprehensive overview of the major questions and concerns for Ohio’s 2014-15 biennial budget.

Why the Public Should Invest Public education fosters creativity, compassion, and curiosity.  These are not only the characteristics that create a strong workforce but also characteristics that create strong individuals and communities. To be successful, our education system must be fully funded – from diverse class offerings and reasonable class sizes to necessary transportation and support services. Ohio’s Constitution guarantees every child the right to attend a school with adequate resources. The drafters of our state constitution recognized that it is in the best interest of the statebusiness, and the overall common good to invest in education for every child.

A great K-12 public education system leads to stronger communities, and we need revenue to pay for great education for our children.

The Current Reality In the 2012-13 budget, Governor Kasich and the legislature decided to eliminate $1.8 billion from K-12 education, leaving the total investment at $18 billion for K-12 education. These cuts, on top of the economic downturn, place Ohio schools in serious trouble. School districts across the state are going to extreme measures to make up budget deficits.

This fall, 194 Ohio school districts have levies on the November 2012 ballot and many other districts are delaying levy requests or have resigned themselves to cuts. Central-Ohio’s Dublin City Schools, for example, seeks $10 million in new money through a levy to maintain high quality education.  If the levy fails, cuts to teachers, bussing, and academic programs at all age levels will be the sobering reality. This is after already major cutbacks due to $15 million in reductions since 2007.

In addition, many districts are dealing with their budget shortfalls using attrition – when one staff member retires, the district does not replace them. This requires districts to shift staff, increase class sizes, and eliminate academic programs and support services. In Madison County, a school district lost one music teacher through attrition and now the single elementary school music teacher serves 1,100 students each week.

It’s also worth noting that while schools are under water across Ohio, there is nearly $500 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

The 2014-15 Budget Most education advocates believe the biggest issue that may be addressed by the legislature is the school funding formula, which determines how much the state will allocate to local communities. The Supreme Court of Ohio has ruled the current funding formula unconstitutional. A sustainable future for education will have to include real investment by the state to prevent a student’s zip code from determining the quality of education received.

Beyond the funding formula, there is a big question for the 2014-15 budget: Will the state restore the cuts it made to K-12 education in the 2012-13 budget or will post-cuts effects like bigger class sizes, reduced bussing, and other reduced services become the new normal? If our intention is indeed to build strong individuals and communities through education, then cuts like those to arts education, AP classes, and high school sports should not remain the status quo.

Governor Kasich’s income tax cut proposal will undoubtedly play a major role in funding for all major budgetary needs. Since 2005, the income tax has been cut by 21%, and along with other revenue changes, has lead to $2.5 billion less in annual revenue. Income tax cuts primarily benefit the wealthiest Ohioans and would further hurt our ability to fund schools. In addition, an income tax cut will increase the divide between rich and poor because wealthy districts are in a better position to make up state funding losses. Low property value districts are less likely to keep pace and invest in a great 21st century education system.

Speak Up! If you would like to get involved as the state budget nears and our advocacy increases, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or sign up for our emails. We’re planning Fiscal Focus as a bi-weekly feature, and upcoming versions will feature the start parks, arts, transportation, healthcare, and other key areas of public investment.

If you’re interested in additional information on K-12 education in the state budget or have any other related question, please contact us.

#Education #FiscalFocus

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