Advocates who were eagerly awaiting the Ohio Senate’s version of the state budget were sorely disappointed when it was finally unveiled on Thursday. Instead of replacing funds to help ease the burden of childcare, as early education workers and chamber of “commerces had hoped, the Senate version of the budget does not replace the funds and instead rolls back funding for childcare even further. In addition, the Senate’s proposed budget has cause advocates for education, human services, and hunger to be concerned and angry.
“When I first saw a draft of this, it was so bad I thought it was a mistake,” Michael Corey, executive director of the Human Service Chamber of Franklin County said during a press conference Monday morning at the Ohio Statehouse, according to the Ohio Capital Journal. “This benefits nobody. This hurts millions. This doesn’t make any sense. Send this back and do better.”
Corey was not the only critic of the bill, which makes drastic changes to funding for education, housing, food banks, and taxes.
Columnist David Dewitt of the Ohio Capital Journal did not hold back in his criticism of the proposed budget. In his opinion piece, Ohio Senate Republicans aim to make poor families suffer even more enormous hardship and pain, he writes that, “…the unconstitutionally gerrymandered Republican supermajority in the Ohio Senate passed their version of the two-year state budget, attacking poor families’ access to affordable housing, food, and medical care. All of these things are already severely underfunded, and they want to make it all worse.”
Cuts in Combatting Hunger
Groups fighting hunger in Ohio agree. Susan Tebben reports that, “After finding out that many of Ohio’s foodbank clients are forced to choose between paying for food and things like utilities and medicine, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks urged the state legislature to include increased funding to the Ohio Food Program and Agricultural Clearance Program (OFPACP), along with hopes that the federal government would make positive changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”
However, the current proposed budget instead would reduce the OFPACP funding and added a request for the Department of Medicaid to establish work reporting requirements for Medicaid. Advocates believe that these policies would exacerbate the problem of hunger and food insecurity in Ohio.
Cuts in Affordable Housing
Senate Republicans’ proposed budget also removes Governor Dewine’s provision that would have created a new affordable housing tax credit program. Housing advocates are upset by this change, especially because of Ohio’s shortage of affordable housing. There were only 199,118 affordable and available rental units for 455,993 extremely low-income renters and a shortage of 256,875 units in Ohio in 2018, according to a 2021 Ohio Housing Finance Agency report.
“We were in no way, shape ,or form ready for the all out assault that the Senate took on rental housing,”Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) Executive Director Amy Riegel told Ohio Capital Journal’s Megan Henry. “The state housing tax credits was going to be a tool that would have greatly enhanced the number of affordable housing units being built across the state.”
Education Overhaul and Controversial Bills
In addition to these funding changes, many provisions in the Senate Republicans’ bill have little to do with the budget. The most consequential of these elements would make “historic changes” to education.
These changes reduce the House’s proposed funding for public schools and instead expand funding for Ohio’s EdChoice scholarships, which public school advocates fear will hurt Ohio’s already struggling public schools.
The budget also includes controversial bills such as Senate Bill 1, which would put the governor’s office in charge of K-12 education by making the Department of Education’s director a cabinet appointee. The State Board of Education elects the department’s current leader.
Also added to the budget plan was Senate Bill 83, which would prohibit most mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training, give greater oversight to partnerships with Chinese universities, restrict the kinds of public positions public colleges and universities could take, penalize teachers who fail to create classrooms “free from bias,” and ban professors from striking, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Educators are almost universally opposed to these bills. “The people in the Senate continue to defund things that are important to education outcomes and important to children’s futures,” said Melissa Cropper, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. She continued, “Forcing legislators to make a choice between a budget and the restructuring of public education is not the right way to enact this type of legislation,” Cropper said.
The Senate also killed a provision in the budget the Ohio House put in that would make school meals free for those whose household income qualified them for free or reduced meals.
A Solid Conservative Budget
While advocates are, “Angry. Frustrated. Disappointed. Disturbed.” Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, defended the legislation, telling reporters he decided to go in a more conservative, policy-driven direction centered around tax cuts and education reforms.
“This is a solid conservative budget,” Huffman said Thursday, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “The House has 67 Republicans there. It’s likely that all other things being equal if it was a normal course that there would probably be 50 votes for it.”
He acknowledged that’s not likely to happen, though, and expects to spend the next two weeks hashing out a final version to give Gov. Mike DeWine.
Cleveland.com details the differences the Ohio Senate, House, and Governor Dewine will need to reconcile. The write that, “Overall, both budget proposals reflect the state’s positive financial position, with tax revenues so far this fiscal year outpacing projections by more than $840 million, and a large chunk of one-time federal coronavirus relief money sitting there to spend.”
Advocates hope that the final version of the budget Governor Dewine signs on June 30th is much different from the Senate’s current version.
“This budget is a mistake. Fix it,” Corey said. “Ohioans in our economy can’t realize their potential if our workers, our people can’t get childcare, can’t eat, can’t get health care and can’t get a place to live.”