LICKING HEIGHTS, Ohio — The superintendent for one of the fast growing school districts in central Ohio said the state is forcing him to increase class sizes and possibly cut staff. That's because the state cut the amount of funds to his district, which was calculated by Ohio's school funding formula, in half.
"A lot of the money is being siphoned off from this area and being given to other parts of the state," said Dr. Philip Wagner, superintendent of the Licking Heights School District. "We have buildings working well over 130% capacity."
Dr. Wagner said enrollment jumped from 3,000 students at Licking Heights to 4,500 students within the last 10 years. They expect the student population to increase to more than 6,000 by 2029. The district failed to pass local levies for emergency funds and more five times in a row. They've been forced to shelve programs, put up to 30 students in one class, set up lunch tables in the gym, and hold class in school hallways.
"Our responsibility as educators is to prepare students for the next step in life whether that's directly into the workforce, college, and career, military," said Dr. Wagner. "It's hard to do that when you're handcuffed by a funding formula that's been like that for years."
The state kept more than half of the $22,500,000 owed to Licking Heights Local last fiscal year. The $12,000,000 the district did not receive went to other districts elsewhere in Ohio that state leaders thought were in greater need.
"You can underfund districts because the state is not keeping up with its share," State Representative Bob Cupp said regarding Ohio's funding formula. "We want something more predictable and stable."
The current funding formula used by the Ohio Department of Education uses more than a dozen different categories to add up funds for a district that include the economically disadvantaged, special education, gifted education, K-3 literacy and students who speak limited English. When the state feels certain district come up short, they'll "cap" the amount given to other districts to make up the difference. More than 160 school districts around Ohio are currently capped which means they're not fully funded by the state.
STate Representative Cupp says he's now working with Governor Mike DeWine's office to change the funding formula and get rid of caps. His plan involves creating a specific dollar amount per student and customize that dollar amount from district to district. Once set, multiply that dollar amount by a district's enrollment to calculate the district's funding. Cupp said no money would be taken away.
"This is going to be a practical plan," said State Rep. Cupp. "There's going to be no big tax increase. There's not going to be a big brush of new money into it."