COLUMBUS — With a July 1 deadline looming, members of the Ohio General Assembly are still debating House Bill 166, which will outline the state budget for the two-year period beginning July 1, 2019 and ending June 30, 2021. Differing opinions between the House, Senate and governor’s office mean the state funding formula remains in flux.

Meanwhile, local school districts are also wrapping up their financial years and waiting to see how the budget will impact them.

Despite the fact that school districts across Knox County receive between 37 and 52 percent of their funding from the state, it’s nearly impossible to factor the upcoming state budget into school budgets before it officially passes. Until that point, it’s subject to adjustments, which can be frequent.

Mike Hebenthal, superintendent for Centerburg Local Schools, said he recalls plenty of times where the general assembly has stayed in session and tweaked the school funding formula hours or even minutes before the official deadline. Nevertheless, he said he isn’t expecting any major changes from this version.

“I expect our foundation payment to be flat funded. That’s the way we’ve been for the last four or five years,” he said. “At least we’re not taking a cut.”

Tonya Mickley, treasurer for Danville Local Schools, concurred, saying she bases her estimates on current funding.

“I try not to read too much into (House Bill 166) because until it’s finally passed, we just have no idea what to expect,” said Mickley. “It’s just easier for treasurers to plan on what we’ve gotten in the past.”

While the bill is still subject to change, previous versions support this prediction. The version of the bill passed by the House suspends the use of the legislature’s current school financing system for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 and “provides for payments to be made based on FY 2019 funding,” according to a report prepared by the Legislative Budget Office. The version passed by the Senate requires the Department of Education to pay school districts “an amount equal to the district’s aggregate annualized payments for FY 2019.”

Districts have coped with biennial readjustments to the state’s school funding formula since the 1990s, when the state Supreme Court’s ruling on DeRolph v. State of Ohio declared it unconstitutional in both 1994 and 1997.

“The issue that made it unconstitutional is that the state relies too much on local wealth to fund schools. That’s why you have too much disparity in schools,” explained Hebenethal. “Where you’re born determines the opportunity you are given because of property wealth.”

In 2003, the Court ruled that school funding in Ohio was still unconstitutional, but that it was the business of the legislature, not the courts, to fix it. Attempts to bring equity to school funding across the state have resulted in a complex formula that has yet to solve the problem.

“To be fair to the legislature and the governor, it’s an incredibly complex situation,” said Hebenthal.

Mary Rugola-Dye, a member of the Mount Vernon City School District board of education, agreed that long term change is necessary, but complicated.

“I don’t have the answers for that,” she said. “But I certainly think that there are better ways to fund our public schools…than to put all the burden on the property owners, especially our farmers.”

Rugola-Dye said she is incredibly grateful that local voters are willing to financially support the schools.

“So many times we have to go back to our supporters in the community,” she said. “We’re very blessed here in the Mount Vernon City School District to have a community that recognizes the importance of public education.”

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Katie Ellington: 740-397-5333 or katie@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @kt_ellington