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School Funds Future Unclear

Less state funding may be available to support Ohio public schools in the future. Unfortunately, “less” and “future” are very vague terms — but for now, they are all the guidance local education officials have.

Indian Creek Local School District officials were told a few days ago that three different potential funding situations are being studied. District Treasurer Denise Todoroff explained the school system has to submit “an updated forecast” for its budget to state officials.

What is known now is that Gov. Mike DeWine ordered a $775 million cut in funding for K-12 education, because of the COVID-19 epidemic. It has affected local and state governments, including schools, severely.

At present, it appears the state funding cut will cost Indian Creek schools about $446,000. Other East Ohio school systems will suffer proportionately equal reductions.

If aid to school districts can be held to the currently planned 4.8% cuts, “we should be OK,” Todoroff said. But, she added, “It’s currently unknown what the funding is going to be next year and beyond.”

For that reason, three scenarios for funding in the future are being considered. One is for a 4.8% reduction in state funding, with two others for 9% and 15% cuts.

A variety of unknowns make it difficult for local school officials in Ohio to plan ahead. Can they continue operations as usual? Find ways to cope with relatively minor trimming of state aid? Or do they need to begin devising strategies for deep cuts?

Neither DeWine nor other state officials have much more information than that available at the local level. It is obvious the COVID-19 business restrictions have had an impact and will continue to do so.

As we have pointed out in the past, it would be helpful if Congress would allow states to use hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid linked to the epidemic to “backfill” budgets. That is, at least some of the money should be available for use to offset revenue lost because of the crisis — but not to cover budget woes caused by other factors.

Unless and until such permission is granted, both local and state officials will have to continue a high-stakes guessing game.

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