(The Center Square) – The state House has signed off on legislation lawmakers say sends more money to schools across Ohio and helps offset revenue losses brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House last week voted in favor of Senate Bill 4, which includes $555 million for schools and infrastructure projects statewide. It returns to the state Senate to consider changes the state House made.
As it stands now, the measure allows the state to issue up to $300 million in bonds for school construction via the Facilities Construction Commission. It also permits the Public Works Commission to issue $225 million in bonds, including $175 million for the State Capital Improvement Program, an initiative that supports local infrastructure projects.
“We’re investing in Ohio’s schools, communities and future,” House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said in a news release. “These are programs with a solid track record of delivering real results.”
The House also approved House Bill 481, which appropriates $350 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act aid to governments across the state. The bill, which goes to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature, also re-appropriates nearly $1.3 billion in state construction funding for pending projects for the current biennium.
Meanwhile, the state House added provisions to House Bill 164, the “Student Religious Liberties Act,” to allocate an additional $24 million in General Revenue Fund (GRF) spending during the 2020 fiscal year.
The bill requires public schools to give students who want to meet for a religious reason the same access to facilities they offer to secular student groups. It also removes a provision allowing school districts to limit religious exercise and expression to the lunch period or other non-instructional periods.
“House Bill 164 protects the rights of students by ensuring a student enrolled in a public school may engage in religious expression in the same manner and to the same extent a student is permitted to engage in secular activities,” state Rep. Tim Ginter, R-Salem, said in a news release.
The bill also increases GRF spending for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years to school districts with a power plant that experienced a decrease in public utility tangible personal property (PUTPP) value, according to a Legislative Service Commission (LSC) analysis.
Payments would total $3.5 million for eight districts during the 2020 fiscal year. According to the LSC analysis, the 2021 fiscal year allocation depends on PUTPP values for the 2020 tax year.
Meanwhile, the bill allocates more than $545,200 in one-time payments from the GRF to three other school districts to reimburse revenue subtracted from state foundation aid due to PUTPP value changes. The amended version of the measure now goes to DeWine for his signature.
“There’s no doubt that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created a difficult fiscal situation for our state and our schools, and difficult decisions have been made about how to address the revenue shortfall,” state Rep. Dave Greenspan, R-Westlake, said in a statement.