Ohio’s more than 600 public school districts are taking $300 million in cuts as the state deals with a deficit of more than three quarters of a billion dollars. While that’s a reduction of just under 4% to K-12 education overall, school leaders say it’s a tough hit at the local level.
Individual districts took cuts ranging from .5% to 2.5%. One in 10 districts will lose more than a million dollars in state funding, with the three largest - Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus - losing more than $23 million total.
School funding expert Howard Fleeter said even though all but one district have a cash balance on hand, it’s a lot to cut by July 1.
“The state has to do what they have to do given the evaporation of revenues they’ve seen in the last month and a half," Fleeter said. "But it’s also hard for school districts to just have to absorb this at the very end of the year and not know what they’re going to look like for next year.”
Fleeter said those cash balances are estimated and can fluctuate depending on where they are in their levy cycles. Most don't have a "rainy day fund" that they can draw from. And the Delphos City Schools northwest of Lima has a negative balance of $21,672.
And Fleeter said $440 million in federal CARES Act aid to schools will come with strings attached and it can't be used to plug budget holes; it'll have to be used for COVID-19 related issues, such as starting online school and delivering meals. The state will get a total of $489 million from the CARES Act for schools, with $48.9 million going to the Ohio Department of Education.
Fleeter said he thinks schools are in a similar situation as during the Great Recession, when he says the federal government offered more flexibility on how to use stimulus money.