I know state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, a little bit. We served together in the legislature. I didn't know him well, but I always found him to be maddeningly meticulous about the state budget I saw him shepherd through the House in 2007.
So it floored me when I read recently that he thought using the now $400 million Medicaid expansion surplus on education would have a "minimal impact."
Someone with Sen. Widener's experience has to know that there are only four education funding components that cost more than $400 million -- the basic aid amount, parity aid, special education and Charter Schools. Does Sen. Widener seriously think that he $369 million the state is spending on economically disadvantaged aid is of "minimal impact"? How about the $64.5 million the state's spending on the Third Grade Reading Guarantee? Or the $17.8 million spent on English Language Learners? Or the $69.3 million spent on Gifted Education? Or the $357 million spent on busing? Or the $43.5 million spent on Career Tech Education?
Over at Innovation Ohio, we broke down just how much that money would mean for districts -- essentially increasing their state aid by about 6%. And we showed how $400 million is more than what the state spends on the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, Gifted Education, Career Tech Education, Limited English Proficiency Education and half of the state's six Special Education categories combined.
Look, I know that the $400 million isn't all going to education. But Sen. Widener's idea to give middle income Ohioans a $40 tax cut, while giving millionaires huge tax cuts is, I would argue, of far less beneficial impact than, say, providing universal pre-school in Ohio's 8 major urban districts, or providing property tax relief in rural, poor districts, or providing the technology upgrades districts so desperately need to comply with the new, tough Common Core standards.
But if Sen. Widener really believes that $400 million is of "minimal impact" to districts, I fear that the state will really fail to deliver any meaningful benefit to Ohio's children with their new found surplus. And that would be a crippling shame.