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Superintendents say proposed funds for support services are needed

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    ED BETZEL / CHRONICLE

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As it stands now, Gov. Mike DeWine’s 2020-21 biennial budget provides nearly $550 million over two years for what is being called “Student Wellness and Success” funding.

Of that, more than $5.1 million is proposed for Lorain County schools in 2020, with another $6.3 million dedicated to Lorain County schools in 2021 under the current version of DeWine’s proposal.

The money, for what are known as “wraparound” or support services, would pay for more after-school programs, mental health counseling and school-based mentoring programs for students, according to DeWine’s office. Such services are meant to help students who face barriers to learning because of mental health, their living situation or have difficulty with attendance for the aforementioned reasons.

The biennial budget proposal is subject to change, with June 30 being the Ohio Legislature’s deadline for approval. Superintendents and school administrators said they believe the final version of the proposal may change but that they remain cautiously optimistic.

Under the proposal, Lorain Schools would receive more than $1.5 million in 2020 at the $250 maximum per student, and more than $1.8 million in 2021 at that budget year’s maximum of $300 per student. That’s all above the district’s state foundation payments of $62.8 million, which amounts to $6,050 per student, Treasurer Josh Hill said.

“This is a completely separate pot of money,” Hill said, and the per student expenditure “wouldn’t change based on current proposal.”

Lorain County districts were in a range in the proposed budget, with larger districts like Lorain and Elyria receiving more than $3 million over the two years and smaller districts like Keystone and Columbia seeing less — $124,000 and $145,000 respectively.

Area superintendents contacted by The Chronicle-Telegram on Tuesday said they were pleased at the possibility of any additional financial support from the state, especially if it means more guidance counselors, social workers or the ability to continue social services for underprivileged students and those with special emotional or psychological needs.

Elyria Schools’ more than 5,700 students, who already receive a total of $30.8 million in state funding per year, according to DeWine’s office, would receive an additional $250 per pupil, or $1.4 million, in 2020 and an additional $300 per pupil, or more than $1.7 million, in 2021.

Elyria Superintendent Ann Schloss said her school district already has started providing some of these services using grant funding and through partnerships with organizations and agencies such as the Lorain County Board of Mental Health.

“First and foremost, I think that it’s very, very needed,” she said. “We are seeing more and more students needing these special services.”

The additional funding could be used to have designated social workers and counselors at district buildings, Schloss said. Right now, elementary school-age counselors are split between those buildings until new construction and consolidation of the district’s elementary and middle schools is complete.

Schloss said she’d also like to see some special projects, like an ongoing after-hours art program at Prospect Elementary School in partnership with the Oberlin Center for the Arts, go districtwide.

“We’re very excited about the possibility (of additional funding), because we know that it’s what’s good for our students, continuing services and not worrying about where the money is coming from. Otherwise it’s from either writing grants or going to the voters,” she said.

“To have something we’d know was there year after year, to have programs put into place and work long-term instead of just temporary fixes, if we know it’s part of the budget we can designate money for that and hire people to meet the needs of students mentally, physically and educationally,” Schloss said.

Wellington Schools will receive more than $211,500 the first year of the budget and another almost $254,000 in funding the second year. That left Wellington Superintendent Ed Weber “optimistic” that his district might get back some of the half-million dollars in state funding it lost over the last two years.

“Certainly the need is there, so anything the state can do to help partner with us would be great,” he said Tuesday. The proposed budget “looks like it could restore some of that. There may be certain strings to it, but we certainly want to support our students with their social-emotional programming. So we could put those funds to definite good use.”

Weber said Wellington Schools also has a partnership with the county Board of Mental Health, conducts Life Act suicide prevention education for middle and high school students and has hired both a new elementary school guidance counselor and a part-time social worker in the last 12 months.

“To be able to fund that for more years, to keep it going or grow it a little bit with the definite needs we have, we appreciate the partnership” additional stand funding could bring, he said, praising DeWine’s proposal.

“You’re hearing ‘Let’s make an investment’ rather than ‘Let’s cut costs,’” Weber added.

DeWine’s proposed budget also calls for more money to be shifted into the Ohio Educational Choice Scholarship, a state program granting students at certain underperforming public schools vouchers to attend private schools as long as their families are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

EdChoice funding would increase to more than $57 million in 2020 and to $71 million in 2021, according to the proposed budget. That would increase scholarships and financial aid for K-12 students seeking a religious, parochial or private education.

Increased demand for free or reduced-cost lunches through the federal school lunch program also would be supported by a $25 million funding increase through 2021, and community or “charter” schools designated as “schools of quality” also could receive an additional $30 million in funding under DeWine’s proposal.

Contact Dave O’Brien at (440) 329-7129 or do’brien@chroniclet.com. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.


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