State Rep. John Patterson is nothing if not an optimist. It is a trait to admire as Patterson and his colleague Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, prepare to make a final, furious push to get their massive and massively important school reform bill into the state’s two-year budget by the June 30 deadline.
Ohio has been down this road before on school funding reform since the landmark 1997 DeRolph Ohio Supreme Court case, in which the Court ruled the state’s education funding system unconstitutional. Yet more than 20 years later, the same system remains in place. There is real reason for hope this time. Patterson said a standalone version of the funding reform bill should be introduced as soon as this week and has 62 co-sponsors — out of 99 House members — lined up, across both parties.
The Cupp-Patterson bill would change the formula to be based 60 percent on property values and 40 percent on income as opposed to 100 percent on property values, and would focus on determining a true base cast to educate students, customized to each district, with the state making up the shortfall. Part of the reason so many have gotten on board is the meticulous process — the plan was the product of 20 months of meetings and work with more than 40 superintendents, treasurers, educators and stakeholders.
Even with all that work and all those invested parties involved, it still wasn’t perfect, as the initial version of the bill did not do enough for economically disadvantaged students. The formula has since been tweaked to add more funding targeted specifically to students in those districts.
That issue does illustrate the biggest challenge with pushing the bill over the finish line in a matter of 25 days. The formula was still being altered just last month. However, the state has gone so long without addressing the issue that, as Patterson said, we cannot “let pursuit of perfection stand in the way of the pursuit of what is good.”
By all means, Patterson and Cupp should push hard to see if it is possible for lawmakers to give the plan a proper vetting in time to get it funded in this two-year budget. But, as Patterson himself admitted, “This is turning an ocean liner around in a short period of time.” Even if the bill is introduced in the House, with a companion bill in the Senate, and hearings take place in both chambers simultaneously, it is hard to see such a massive piece of legislation added to this budget at this point in the process. But, in politics stranger things have happened.
However, even if the bill is not passed by June 30, lawmakers must make it happen this General Assembly, even if the plan, which is going to be phased in over six years, does not get funded until the next two-year budget.
For one thing, Patterson is in his final term, so if not now, it seems unlikely to ever take root. The political will has been lacking for 20 years, but this moment appears to be a potential tipping point — if lawmakers are willing to resist inertia and push the process forward.
To ensure that happens, it will take the voice of all the stakeholders — which is everyone, as having a well-educated populace is the key to economic growth.
We urge those who wish to see a change in the state funding system call or email Ohio Senate President Larry Obhoff (an Ashtabula County native) at (614) 466-7505 or firstname.lastname@example.org or House Speaker Larry Householder at (614) 466-2500 or email@example.com. For more information and details on the reform plan, visit https://sites.google.com/view/ohiofairschoolfunding.
Now is the moment for real change.