Ohio Senate's School Budget Allows For Online School, Free Internet and Computer Access

Ohio lawmakers must reconcile differences in their versions of the state's K-12 education plan this month, bringing the issue to the center of the debate of a $75 billion two-year budget.

The budget approved by the GOP-controlled House in April incorporated parts of the bipartisan Fair School Funding Plan that educators, elected officials and teachers unions developed over more than three years. The plan was meant to lead Ohio to a sustainable funding process for several years.

But the GOP-majority Senate discarded the plan in favor of their own as part of the budget it is expected to approve Wednesday. The legislation allows public schools to operate an online school for students and includes free access to the internet and a computer.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Togi, an 11th grade student at Wakefield High School, poses during an interview with AFP at his home in Arlington, Virginia, on June 3, 2021. When his father lost his job last year, Togi, then 16, did not hesitate to look for a job to help his family, despite the fear of Covid-19. In the United States, the pandemic has precipitated many high school students into the world of work, at the risk of jeopardizing their future. MANDEL NGAN / AFP/Getty Images

The Senate education plan assumes a $6,110 annual base cost per student. The House plan provides slightly more over the two-year funding cycle but increases to $7,203 when fully phased in over six years.

Under the House version, a large increase in spending could then lead to cuts in funding down the road, Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, said June 1 when the Senate's plan was introduced.

The Senate proposal "actually provides more money to local school districts, but it is also more predictable and more sustainable, and that's why we think it's a superior product," Huffman said.

Advocates for the Fair School Funding Plan disagree, and say it does not make sense to ignore the work of both Democrats and Republicans and a broad swath of educators who developed it.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Ohio schoolchildren," former Democratic state representative John Patterson of Ashtabula, a retired teacher who helped develop the plan, said Tuesday.

He said the plan allows for "predictability for school districts so they can provide the programming to the best of our abilities that allow for the utmost opportunities for all of our children."

The House plan also has the backing of both major Ohio teachers unions, the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, who on Wednesday called on Senate lawmakers to adopt the plan's elements.

The Senate's school-funding proposal would also require that the state, not individual districts, pay charter schools directly for the first time.

That measure was an outcome of districts developing online systems during the coronavirus pandemic and wanting to continue that option, said Senate Finance Chairman Matt Dolan.

The Senate version of the budget also:

—Provides an across-the-board personal income tax cut of 5 percent.

—Raises the eligibility level for poor families accessing publicly funded daycare from those making 130 percent of the federal poverty level to 142 percent and provides $50 million to discount co-payments for such daycare. The Senate plan also eliminates the requirement that daycares achieve a quality of care rating to be listed in the state system. Child care advocates say that change will hurt the quality of care available for Ohioans who need the publicly funded option.

—Shields names collected through the state's Vax-a-Million lottery incentive program from the state's open records law.

—Mandates that physicians who provide backup coverage at local hospitals as part of required patient-transfer agreements with abortion clinics must practice within 25 miles (40 kilometers) of the clinics.

— Requires that candidates for chief justice or justice of the Ohio Supreme Court and for appeals court judicial seats must appear on the general election ballot with a political party designation. Partisan designations are not permitted under current law.

Ohio Senate Finance Chairman Matt Dolan discusses details of the Senate version of the state's $75 billion budget after passage by the Finance Committee, on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. Dolan said the budget helps Ohioans across the state by providing a 5% tax cut, more education funding, money for publicly funded child care, and funding for rape crisis and domestic violence centers and Boys Girls clubs and YMCAs, among other measures. Andrew Welsh-Huggins/AP Photo