Institute encourages Ohio to take student-first approach to school funding


Ohio ranks as one of the better states in the nation when it comes to giving parents options for their child’s education, but an educational and research group thinks the state can do better.

The Buckeye Institute recently released a policy brief Thursday aimed at empowering families, rather than only school districts, when it comes to education. The brief comes at a time when state lawmakers debate what likely is the most-significant school funding change in decades.

“With the General Assembly embarking on the biennial budget process, and leaders in both chambers acknowledging the need to reform school funding, now is the perfect time for Ohio to begin funding students first,” wrote Greg Lawson, a research fellow at The Buckeye Institute and author of the brief. “Pursing a student-first funding program – especially during the ongoing pandemic – will help Ohio better meet the needs of its students, its teachers and its families.”

House Bill 1, which had its first hearing in the House Finance Committee last week, changes the base cost formula for education funding to include a district’s income and takes into account everything involved in education, including professional development and extracurricular activities. It calls for a six-year phase in and could mean $2 billion more for public primary and secondary schools.

The same bill easily passed the House last year but failed to come to a vote in the Senate.

In the policy brief, Lawson believes the state can use education savings accounts to close opportunity gaps and expand education markets. He also said new technologies have created new opportunities, but he believes many students continue to be left behind.

Lawson said using a student-first funding approach through education savings accounts will “move beyond a one-size-fits-all education system and offer a more tailored approach.”

More than 300,000 Ohio students take advantage of some type of school-choice option, and that number could grow thanks to legislation signed into law near the end of 2020. Senate Bill 89 made several changes to the state’s EdChoice Scholarship programs, expanding income-based opportunities and the traditional programs.

Two of Ohio’s school-choice programs ranked among the top 10 in the nation, with its Autism Scholarship Program being the best in terms of purchasing power, according to a recent study from a group focused on advancing school-choice options throughout the nation.

“Progressive choice initiatives, including charter schools and voucher programs, have made Ohio a national leader in providing families with K-12 education options,” Lawson wrote in the report. “ … As more families struggling with difficult financial circumstances and as schools look to adapt to the unique COVID-19 environment, much more can and should be done to meet student needs.”

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