Coalition Says Senate Budget Plan Does Little For Appalachian Schools

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As the saying goes, the third time’s a charm. But that’s not the case for the proposed state budget, at least according to the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools (CORAS).

The Ohio Senate has recently released its version of the state budget, now in its third iteration since the governor first proposed it in February and the House made its tweaks in April. The Senate’s version includes increases in school funding statewide, but members of CORAS aren’t impressed.

While funding for K-12 increases slightly in the Senate version, CORAS President Tom Perkins said those figures need to be analyzed in context.

“The statement that more money is being put into education is true, as compared to years after the budget cuts from when the governor first came into office,” Perkins said. “Right now, the budget the Senate is presenting provides less of a percentage of the state budget for schools since 2009. It’s a play on words.”

Perkins also takes issue with where those funds are going, which isn’t to rural Appalachian schools, he said. In the coalition’s analysis, 52 of the 168 CORAS districts are expected to receive no increase in basic state funding in the 2014-15 school year. Meanwhile, he said, wealthier districts, voucher programs and charter schools get an increase.

Just like the House version of the bill, three of Athens County’s five school districts will receive no additional funds. Nelsonville-York City Schools is estimated to receive an additional 3.62 percent (or $301,580) in fiscal year 2014. Trimble Local Schools is projected to received an additional 6.25 percent (or $419,159) in the same year.

“Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said the Ohio Senate plan was ‘constitutional,’” said Lori Snyder-Lowe in a news release. Snyder-Lowe is the former president of CORAS and the Morgan County Local superintendent. “With all due respect, it is plain to see that children living in one of the highest poverty areas of the state are not being treated fairly or funded equitably.”

For these and several other reasons, Sen. Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville) said he likely won’t support the budget.

“It’s not a matter of do we have enough money,” Gentile said. “It’s more about what are our priorities. The House version cut the income tax. The Senate version introduced a business tax cut. They’ll try to reconcile these tax reform concepts with the state’s surplus. The emphasis is not on public education or local governments. It’s more about how can we implement tax breaks for people and business in Ohio, mostly who are already doing pretty well, at the detriment of public education and local communities.”

Tom Gibbs, new associate superintendent of Athens City Schools, said he’s frustrated with the process at the Statehouse.

“Now we have folks who are touting economic recovery,” Gibbs said. “At the same time, we keep having the same conversation about school funding, and they’re not even willing to fund at the 2009 level. It’s disappointing to me that they can’t look at it and say, ‘Our kids gave up these things during the recession. We should be restoring these services to our children. Our children should share in our economic recovery.’”

The state is less than a month away from having to approve a state budget. The next step for lawmakers is a conference committee, when members of the House and Senate will meet starting this week to find a compromise. A final budget must be ready by June 30.

“I’m waiting for them to come up with their hybrid version,” said Athens City Schools Treasurer Matt Bunting. “That’ll be the version that will have the most impact on us. In the conference committee, they have to make it mesh. That’s when it starts to get really interesting.”