A bill creating an alternative school facilities funding program became the vehicle for district and university appropriations on Thursday.

The House unanimously approved the measure (SB 8) to provide schools up to $1 million or 10% of their estimated state funding matches, whichever is greater, when they choose to make small improvements instead of major construction projects.

The so-called 1:1 School Facilities Option program at the heart of the bill was included in the biennial budget (HB 49). New to the legislation, however, are appropriations for school and university programs.

Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) amended the bill on the House floor to allocate more than $300,000 each fiscal year to 4-H and VoAg programs at Cleveland and Cincinnati schools as well as $50,000 annually for Model United Nations at Wright State University.

The accepted amendment also replaces references to the School Facilities Commission, which was eliminated in the biennial budget. The responsibilities of the commission were rolled into the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.

Districts that partake in the new 1:1 program would be eligible when they reach the top of the priority list for Construction Facilities Assistance Program funding.

OFCC Program Services Chief Jeff Westhoven said in an interview the commission will still create master plans showing needed improvements throughout districts, but those that participate in the alternative funding program would be able to select which projects they’ll pursue instead of completing entire plans.

Once a district elects to follow the alternative funding path, it’s no longer eligible for CFAP funding. Those that have already received funding are unable to take part in the new program.

Mr. Westhoven said the alternative funding plan could benefit districts that would receive small state matches under CFAP once they reach the top of the list and are seeking only to make minor upgrades.

Alternatively, districts that would receive significant state dollars but are unable to raise local match dollars would also benefit from the flexibility of the new program, he said.

“It could be either one,” Mr. Westhoven said. “It’s just another option once we reach them in line for how to receive their state dollars.”

As of July 2016, the commission completed projects in 269 districts and fully or partially funded master plans in 97 districts, he said. Another 154 have become eligible for funds but were unable to raise local matches or deferred while 16 have started projects with their own funding in anticipation of receiving state dollars. About 80 districts are still waiting to reach the top of the priority list.

On the House floor, Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) applauded the new program and urged her colleagues to vote in support of the bill.

“I believe this is smart, reasonable and very fair as schools expand, improve, modernize,” she said.

Mr. Westhoven said the commission is expected to vote on program guidelines and an application process at its October meeting. Outreach to districts could begin in December.

In addition to consolidating OSFC and OFCC and creating the 1:1 program, the budget also makes a handful of other school facilities funding changes regarding commission membership, reporting requirements and eligibility for districts under fiscal watch, fiscal emergency and academic distress.

The two-year spending bill also permits districts to take on unvoted debt if they can prove alternative fuel vehicle projects will pay for themselves over the course of 15 years.

Districts have long been able to do so for construction projects that result in energy savings, but vehicle purchases with unvoted debt were ineligible, Mr. Westhoven said.

The Senate-added provision stemmed from some districts’ desires to purchase busses powered by electric or compressed natural gas, he said.

The budget also gives OFCC the power to debar individual contractors in addition to contracting firms.

“Occasionally, what you see is a firm that got debarred would split off and form another company and the new company would of course be eligible for state business and so this would allow us to debar individuals,” Mr. Westhoven said.

Other planned revisions were vetoed by Gov. John Kasich. He struck language that would have changed how the commission funds segmented and Joint Vocational School District projects.

The administration estimated that a provision increasing the state share for 29 districts currently on segmented construction plans could cost the state an extra $256 million now and potentially more in the future. (Veto Message)

A proposal to provide more funding for JVSD projects would have also diverted money from K-12 districts still looking to receive facilities assistance, according to the governor.

OFCC is supportive of the governor’s decision to veto the items, Mr. Westhoven said, noting that Ohio’s state share for school facilities has historically been more than 50% while the national average falls around 18%.

“Ohio is a fairly generous state when it comes to state support for school buildings and so this provision would have made it even more heavily state funded,” he said.