COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio Gov. John Kasich unveiled a school-funding overhaul on Thursday aimed at helping students in poor districts compete by narrowing tax-base disparities, while rewarding innovation and expanding access to vouchers.
The Republican governor proposed spending $15.1 billion on K-12 education over the next two years, boosting funds to districts that are lagging behind in property values and household incomes.
Kasich touted the plan at events throughout the day, saying he is confident it is constitutional.
"There is no politics in this plan," he said in one forum. "We are attempting in this plan to make sure that every student in Ohio, regardless of the kind of a district they come from based on wealth, has an opportunity to compete with a child in a district that has greater wealth. We think that's really important."
No school gets a funding cut next year under the current formula, to allow them time to adjust. But the administration warned that current funding guarantees will eventually be phased out.
The plan sends $1.2 billion more to districts over the biennium than in the last budget, including a nearly 6 percent increase in fiscal year 2014, and 3.2 percent more the next year. That follows a period of financial difficulties for schools brought on by lost stimulus money and other economic factors.
Kasich also proposed a $300 million "Straight A" fund that will deliver grants to districts for innovation and efficiency measures.
The plan, dubbed "Achievement Everywhere," proposes bringing all schools up to the tax base level of a district with $250,000 in property value per student -- the 96th percentile of districts statewide -- to ease wide disparities in millage revenues from local levies.
The guarantee of no funding cuts doesn't extend beyond the next two years, so the exact repercussions of the plan remain unclear -- particularly for districts that may have to wean themselves off state funding that will move elsewhere.
"I think the devil is in the details, and we haven't seen all the details yet," said Senate Education Chairwoman Peggy Lehner, a Kettering Republican. "From the broad concepts I've seen, I think it's very innovative and dynamic."
Once all districts are brought to the 96th percentile level, they'll get added money in key areas: for special-needs and disabled students, for gifted and talented education, to teach English speaking, and to reward high school students who take college courses.
Throughout the day, Kasich made little mention of the voucher expansion and said the program he proposes is similar to what's currently available. Thursday's plan allows parents to move children from low-performing schools to private ones.
Ohio Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney, a Cincinnati Democrat, said he was "a little bit amazed" that Kasich hadn't reached out to his party in crafting the plan. He said the voucher expansion was worrisome.
"I have a fundamental problem with the governor's approach; that is, the lack of bipartisanship," he said.
Kasich proposes funding help for districts with high levels of poverty where students don't have access to preschool programs. Other aid would help them reach Ohio's new third-grade reading proficiency target.
The proposal also includes steps to increase transparency on school efficiency and performance, and to encourage districts to learn from the successes of comparable districts.
During an online Town Hall, Kasich said he hopes the plan will be transformative.
"I am very, very hopeful that this is not just going to enter a new era for our school-funding and educating our children, but I'm hopeful this will allow a lot of people who have engaged in these education wars over these last couple decades to come together."
The plan calls for remove some state education regulations in order to free building principals to direct more state dollars into classrooms.
The long-awaited plan's introduction kicks off months of expected debate over Ohio's educational direction.
School funding decisions for Ohio's 613 school districts and 353 charter schools are likely to affect many tax bills, home values and the quality of the education children receive.
Criticism came from Democrats and some teachers who felt they were left out of the process.
"Unfortunately, the governor is working on education policy and school funding with only a select few," said Ella Jordan Isaac, a 7th grade teacher at Trotwood-Madison, near Dayton. "He must include all of us -- especially those of us with deep classroom experience -- as we move through this process."
Kasich's education advisers told the Town Hall meeting that they had spent months traversing the state and talking to teachers, principals, superintendents and others.
Sewell reported from Cincinnati; Associated Press reporter Kantele Franko contributed from Columbus.