Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Much Will Ohio Really Cut School Budgets?

I attended a fascinating talk today titled: Regional Forum on School Funding. David Varda, the Executive Director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials and Andy Benson, the Executive Director of Ohio Education Matters, presented on topics related to Governor Kasich's recent proposed state budget.

The focus of Varda's presentation was on what some of the specific numbers might be attached to the cuts. Some of the highlights:

  • Funding for special education will not be increased for the next fiscal year.
  • Money from the stimulus package that the state was giving to school districts has expired and will not be replaced.
  • Career technical foundation funding will stay the same, as these programs have historically seen a spike in attendance during recessions.
  • Gifted education funding has been eliminated, but the dollars have been moved to the general education fund.
  • The Ohio Evidence Based Model will be repealed but had never received money for implementation anyway.
  • The pension system will potentially change, with the state and teachers each paying in 12%. Currently, teachers pay 10% while the state pays 14%.
  • Any citizens that financially qualifies will be able to obtain school vouchers.
Andy Benson spoke next and had some very interesting research about how to save schools money across the state. Specifics about saving schools money and dealing with the education budget cuts can be found on the Ohio Education Matters website.

Some of the highlights were:
  • The state of Ohio needs to provide for schools
    • Regional support systems
    • More flexibility and tools for change
    • Rewards for and encouragement for efficiency
Benson also suggested that the Ohio education budget cuts must come with more autonomy for the schools.

Better regional support is needed to help schools take advantages of key cost-saving measures. Some of the ideas for cutting costs were lowering health care costs by buying health coverage in ever larger pools and encouraging digital innovations to curb cutting classes like Advanced Placement or language classes that many times have low enrollment but high impact.

Benson also highlighted work in creating measures of efficiency for non-instructional activities like maintenance, transportation, and food services. Ohio Education Matters studies estimated that 35% of educational funds are spent on non-instructional activities and between 500 million and 1.3 billion dollars could be saved by increasing efficiency in these areas.

One of the most talked about ideas was shared services. These would be methods were neighboring school districts could create more efficient services by sharing. Some of the more obvious areas of collaboration were food services and transportation. But digital innovations could also be shared, as one district could offer a class to students from many districts. 

Shared services was also highlighted because it can take advantage of some of the benefits usually associated with consolidation while avoiding the negatives of closing schools or entire districts.

The general public can look for the Ohio budget language to come out as early as next Friday. At that point, a better idea of the impact of the Ohio education budget cuts will be available.

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