Last week, the Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 164, which would require public schools to give students the same access to school facilities for the purpose of religious expression as they do to secular student groups. In addition, H.B. 164 would increase flexibility for Ohio schools in the wake of COVID-19 as they approach the 2020-21 school year and would provide additional funding for school districts affected by power plant closures.

The bill that originated in House of Representatives includes funding for school districts with one or more power plants in their territory that experienced at least a 10% decrease in their taxable value between 2017-18 or 2019-20. Districts that are affected include Manchester, New Richmond, U.S. Grant, and Felicity Franklin.

According to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, Manchester Local School District will receive an estimated $1,447,022.

“I believe this bill is essential to helping school districts who have lost vital funding due to the closure or devaluation of power plants in their district,” said State Representative Brian Baldridge in testimony to Chairman Oelslager, Vice Chair Callendar, Ranking Member Cera, and members of the House Finance Committee.

Baldridge went on to testify, “We broached the idea of this legislation when Manchester Local School District, in Adams County, had two large power plants close. As soon as Manchester became aware that their two power plants were leaving, they began to immediately make difficult decisions to prepare for the loss of revenue that was coming. Even though the districts have made significant cuts over the last few years, they were counting on the .028 adjustment to help them keep their doors open. As we looked into this issue further it became apparent that this does not just affect the schools in our district, but multiple districts across the state.”

Baldridge goes on to mention HB 651, a bill that later joined House Bill 164, “HB 651 would reinstate the ‘.028 adjustment’  despite the freeze in state funding for FY20 and FY21. This adjustment to a district’s share of foundation aid is triggered when a district experiences a change in its valuation of 10% or more. To be clear, we are not altering any formulas or creating new exemptions, simply letting the previously utilized formula run. This would not only affect Manchester Local but would also benefit Perry Local, New Richmond Exempted Village, and Gallia County Local Schools. It should be noted that HB 651 does not appropriate new dollars from the GRF. Instead, the bill utilizes an existing set aside in state foundation funding that has sufficient unexpended dollars to provide relief to these impacted districts. We have been working with the Ohio Department of Education, who have provided technical support in drafting this legislation. There is also companion legislation to this bill in the form of SB 313, which has been introduced by Senator Terry Johnson.

Additions to House Bill 164 include additional funding from the Ohio Department of Education to each school district based on its combined state foundation aid and the federal CARES Act School Emergency Relief Fund. The bill also would allow the governing body of a public school to adopt a remote learning model for the 2020-21 school year.

Senator Terry Johnson worked on the bill in the Senate.  The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

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