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Kasich prepares to unveil Ohio school funding fix

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. John Kasich's long-awaited education funding overhaul is nearly here.

The Republican governor has scheduled a series of events Thursday to showcase the proposal, which is anticipated to kick off months of debate over the best direction for Ohio's public school system.

Kasich's plan is expected to contain his attempt at resolving constitutional issues with the existing school-funding formula, which assigns district-by-district subsidies, and a host of other policy reforms.

Kasich has signaled his desire for systemic change — and hinted at a variety of broad ideas that he favors. Those include enhanced parental control, public school district funds that follow the poorest children when they choose a different education option, and monetary rewards for teachers whose students show measurable improvement.

The governor plans to brief invited superintendents on components of his plan at an afternoon gathering in suburban Columbus organized by the Buckeye Association of School Administrators. That will be followed by a formal unveiling to the press and a Virtual Town Hall broadcast online at 6 p.m., for which citizens can submit questions.

After Cleveland's plan for transforming its struggling schools was passed on a bipartisan basis, Kasich took the unusual step of publicly endorsing the accompanying school levy needed to fund the changes that include making student performance a key factor in deciding teacher pay and eliminating seniority as a determining factor in layoffs.

Statehouse Democrats on Wednesday asked for a voice in the process, which the governor has kept unusually quiet.

"It's not reform we're arguing about. It's the process of how we get there," said state Rep. Teresa Fedor, a former schoolteacher. She said Democrats want "honest, professional engagement."

Fedor joined fellow representatives Debbie Phillips and Matt Lundy, fellow Democrats, in citing three areas they hope Kasich's plan tackles. They want to see more money for pre-school and all-day kindergarten, which they said has been key to education advances in other states; a formula that helps districts avoid so many local levy requests; and greater accountability to the public for for-profit charter schools.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers issued a statement calling Democrats' ideas "spot on."

"Identifying early childhood education as a key priority is a huge step in strengthening the foundation of every child's learning and future achievement," the group said.

Ohio has been effectively without a school funding formula since 2009. That's the equation that answers vexing policy questions and doles out dollars accordingly. Decisions that go into calculating what's paid to Ohio's 613 school districts and 353 charter schools are likely to affect many Ohioans' tax bills, home values, and the ultimate quality of the education Ohio children receive.

Kasich scrapped his Democratic predecessor Ted Strickland's attempt at a solution, an "evidence-based model" widely criticized as theoretical and unfunded. While Kasich initially predicted he'd have his formula ready by October 2011, it's taken him more than an additional year to come up with a plan.

In the two decades since the Ohio Supreme Court first declared the state's school funding system unconstitutional, many attempts have been made to come up with a workable solution. The high court said Ohio's system relied too heavily on property taxes, which can vary widely between rich and poor districts.

One plan looked to spending by academically successful schools as the benchmark for districts statewide. Another sent a set amount per student to each district, with additional weight given to how many pupils a district had in poverty or in special programs. Strickland's plan identified education strategies that were scientifically proven to work, then tried phasing them in over time.

The Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, the group that brought Ohio's original school funding lawsuit, said Strickland's plan got the state closest to a constitutional approach. But it wasn't affordable.

Kasich has said he was considering retaining elements of the evidence-based model in his new formula.

Phillips said Kasich's plan has to provide enough money to adequately educate children.

"It can't just be rhetoric and hope that changing things is somehow going to produce a better result," she said. "It has to be based on evidence of what we know will be effective for students and the resources have to be there to provide those opportunities."

According to legislative budget analysts, primary and secondary education accounted for almost 42 percent of state general revenue spending in fiscal 2011 and 40 percent in fiscal 2012.

While the state has waited for a new formula, Ohio school districts have continued to receive what they got in 2009 with a few adjustments that included assurances that no district receive less than in the previous fiscal year, and extra money for those demonstrating excellence. It's called the "bridge formula."

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