New Ohio School Budget Law Makes Historic Strides in K-12 Education
Churchill: State makes sweeping changes on school choice, funding, governance, literacy instruction, CTE, teacher licensing & student transportation.
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A version of this essay originally appeared on the Ohio Gadfly Daily blog.
On June 30, the Ohio House and Senate passed the state’s biennial budget bill for Fiscal Years 2024-25, and Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law July 3. The legislation makes historic strides in K-12 education, most notably through strengthened educational choice programs, an overhaul of the state’s school governance framework and requirements that schools adopt scientifically based reading practices. The bill also includes significant steps forward in career-technical education, teacher licensing and transportation. The one blemish: gutting the state’s third-grade retention policy. That aside, the budget bill is packed with reforms that promise a better future for Ohio students.
Significantly increases overall K-12 education funding: The budget increases core foundation funding for all public schools, including both traditional district and public charter schools. The decision to update the “inputs” to the school funding formula drove the increase — e.g., using 2022 teacher salary data to calculate base amounts, rather than 2018 salary data as in the prior biennium. The table below indicates that both districts and charters receive a 12% boost in state foundation aid between FY23 and FY25.
Narrows longstanding charter funding gaps: Ohio charter schools have historically been underfunded, receiving just 70% to 75% of local districts’ overall taxpayer funding. This year’s budget helps to close this large and persistent funding gap in the following ways:
- High-quality funding: Led by DeWine, charters that register strong performance on key report card indicators will now receive an additional $3,000 per economically disadvantaged student and $2,250 per non-disadvantaged student annually. In FY23, the supplemental funding amounts provided to high-quality charter schools were $1,416 and $809 respectively.
- Facilities funding: All brick-and-mortar charters will receive $1,000 per pupil for facilities, up from $500 per pupil in FY23.
- Equity supplement: In a brand-new funding component, all brick-and-mortar charters will receive an additional $650 per pupil.
The average Ohio brick-and-mortar charter school is projected to receive 86% of district funding in the next biennium; high-quality charters will receive 92%. In terms of actual amounts — including the increased foundation aid — the average high-quality charter will receive approximately $4,000 per pupil in additional monies (or roughly 40% more aid) in FY25 compared with FY23. Though still less than the total taxpayer support received by similar district schools, these dollars will help Ohio’s best charters recruit and retain talented teachers, cover more of their facilities costs, expand their capacity so they can reach more students and make Ohio an attractive destination for top national charter networks.
Expands private school scholarship eligibility to all families: Under former policy, students whose incomes were under 250% of the federal poverty level ($75,000 for a family of four), or those of any income level attending specific low-performing schools, were eligible for EdChoice scholarships. Led by state Senate President Matt Huffman, the budget moves Ohio to universal eligibility, as any student — regardless of family income or school attended — is now eligible for EdChoice. Students whose family income is above 450% of federal poverty ($135,000 for a family of four) will receive reduced scholarship awards — the exact amounts will be based on a sliding scale — while lower-income students will receive the full amount. Ohio can now proudly join seven other states with universal private school choice programs.
Consistent with public school increases, the budget raises the scholarship amounts (including for special-needs scholarships). The full EdChoice scholarship is estimated to be $6,165 for students in grades K-8 and $8,407 in grades 9-12. These funding levels, while above prior scholarship amounts, still remain modest in comparison to total average public school funding of roughly $14,500 per pupil. Considering all programs, Ohio is expected to increase scholarship funding from $595 million in FY23 to $1 billion by FY25.
The legislature also wisely added a requirement that the state education agency calculate and report growth results of scholarship students attending private schools. This new provision will offer parents a more complete picture of school quality relative to the current system that considers only proficiency rates on standardized assessments.
Overhauls K–12 education governance: Due in part to an incoherent governance structure at the state level, Ohio has struggled to rigorously implement education initiatives. One of the most obvious stumbling blocks has been its 19-member state Board of Education. It currently consists of 11 members elected from broad regional districts and eight appointees of the governor. Unfortunately, the body has often failed to provide clear direction for and oversight of the state education agency. To address these problems, the budget bill puts the agency and its chief under the direct oversight of the governor, rather than the state board. The renamed Department of Education and Workforce will be responsible for implementing most education laws, with the state board largely relegated to handling matters of licensure. With a clearer chain of command and fewer cooks in the kitchen, the new governance model should promote stronger, steadier state leadership.
Aligns literacy instruction to the science of reading: The governor made literacy the centerpiece of his education budget this year. He proposed requiring all schools to follow the science of reading — an approach that emphasizes phonics and other key elements of effective reading instruction — and prohibiting discredited reading curricula from Ohio classrooms. His budget also set aside roughly $170 million over the biennium to provide high-quality curricula that align with the reading science and to support professional development for teachers. The governor’s proposals were approved, and the General Assembly even built on them by requiring teacher preparation programs to train prospective educators in the science of reading.
Invests in high-quality career-technical education: Another major priority of the governor’s was career-technical education. He proposed $300 million over the biennium in additional state spending that would support the expansion of CTE programming in in-demand career fields, with a particular focus on covering facility and equipment costs unique to advanced CTE fields. These investments will allow Ohio’s schools and career-technical centers to upgrade their programs to meet the demands of high-tech industries while expanding access to quality CTE to more high school students. The funding was approved in the final budget bill.
Strengthens teacher pipelines: With many schools (including charters) expressing concerns about teacher shortages, the legislature pared down some of the licensing requirements that make it harder to recruit and retain teachers. The budget eliminates burdensome coursework requirements for out-of-state teachers to become licensed in Ohio, as well as for current teachers who entered the profession via alternative pathways to renew their license. Lawmakers also created a grow-your-own teacher initiative that provides scholarships for individuals who aspire to teach in high-need schools ($15 million allocation over the biennium).
Improves pupil transportation: Ohio law requires districts to provide transportation to eligible district, charter and private school students. Unfortunately, some districts have struggled to fulfill this responsibility, often citing issues with busing out-of-district students. As a result, transportation has become a major headache for charter and private school families. The legislation should improve transportation by allowing greater flexibility in the use of vans, strengthening the state’s noncompliance provisions and creating a pilot program in which regional educational service centers take responsibility for busing out-of-district students.
Shines a light on intradistrict open enrollment: Thousands of students likely attend non-residentially assigned schools within their home district — to access a magnet school, for instance — but there are no numbers on how many do this. The budget requires districts to report how many students participate in intradistrict open enrollment, allowing for a more comprehensive picture of school choice in the Buckeye State. Policymakers, however, didn’t mandate that all Ohio districts participate in interdistrict open enrollment. The decision to open their doors will continue to be up to districts, and many suburban ones will refuse to accept non-resident students who might benefit from attending their schools.
Holds the line on charter school accountability: As discussed in this piece, Senate lawmakers included provisions that would have softened accountability for charter school sponsors (or authorizers) and weakened accountability for the schools they oversee. To their credit, legislators stripped these provisions from the final budget during conference committee, reiterating Ohio’s commitment to strong, academic-focused charter accountability that has helped drive improved performance in recent years.
Ensures that parents receive test scores in a timely manner: The budget adds a requirement that schools provide parents with their child’s state exam results by June 30 annually. Without a deadline, many parents have received this information too late to take steps on behalf of their child.
A landmark budget is now on the books, exciting things are ahead for Ohio schools, families and students. Schools from all sectors will have more resources that they can use to provide students with a quality education. Parents can look forward to having a larger set of quality public and private school options at their fingertips. With the promise of more effective instruction and personalized opportunities, more Ohio students will be well prepared for life after high school. Kudos to state lawmakers for making K-12 education a top priority.
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