In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the way the State funded its schools was unconstitutional. Today a report was released that claims little has changed.
Admittedly, school funding is a very complex issue but ultimately it boils down to two major sources – local money and state money. When it comes to state funding Dr. Howard Fleeter, and economist and the report’s author says more should be done.
School funding at the local level is all based on property tax levies and in some districts, income tax levies.
“The poor districts, no matter how hard they try, to get their voters to support levies just can’t raise enough money,” said Fleeter.
Let’s say a low wealth district like Hamilton Local School District in Franklin County were to ask voters to pass a 1 mill levy. Even if they did, the levy would not bring in as much money as if a high wealth district like Upper Arlington City Schools were to ask its voters to pass a 1 mill levy.
That’s because the property values are different in both areas.
The state has an obligation to make sure every kid gets an adequate education, so it steps in and gives all school districts money and uses a formula to make sure low wealth districts get more than high wealth districts to compensate for the lack of available resources at the local level.
This all went into effect after the DeRolph ruling.
“The first 10 years after the court ruling we did make a lot of progress,” said Fleeter. “The problem is in the 10 years since then we’ve really fallen back.”
Fleeter says that’s because the legislature and administration has prioritized income tax cuts over spending on education and other services.
The Director of Communications for Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Ryan Smith released this statement today:
The Speaker looks forward to reviewing the report in further detail, however at first glance the information verifies and reinforces what we have been suspecting for some time in regards to school funding. Supporting Ohio’s school districts has been a main priority for the past several budget cycles in the House, and it will continue to be a key issue for the next budget. As members look at the numbers going into 2019, this report will certainly be part of the conversation.
Senate President Larry Obhof disputed the idea that education is not a priority at the Statehouse.
“I think we’re all focused on the same thing which is making sure that all children get a quality education and that which zip code you live in doesn’t determine how good your education’s gonna be,” said Obhof which he then backed that up with these stats.
“In the last budget despite closing a $1.1 billion gap and cutting spending overall, we increased funding to the schools by about $200 million, maybe a little bit more than that,” said Obhof. “In each of the prior two budgets we increased state spending on schools by more than $700 million.”
Obhof also stated that the formula used to determine who gets how much in funding, may be something that is looked during the next budget making process.
However, Fleeter says simply increasing the amount of money doesn’t necessarily fix the problem of inequity between districts with different levels of wealth.
“If we just make this about the money and we don’t worry about making sure every kid gets a quality education then we will have not lived up to what that decision was supposed to mean, and I think that’s the bottom line,” said Fleeter. “It’s not just more money; it’s making sure that that money actually makes a difference.”
Governor Kasich’s Office has not responded yet to our request for comment on this matter.
The full report is full of information and attempts to break things down for easier digestion.
Finally, if you recall Hamilton Local School District was used as an example above.
I reached out to them for a comment about the report, and this is what their Director of Communications sent me:
Hamilton Local, same as every other school district, would be thankful to have more funding from the state in order to provide expanded educational opportunities. In our district’s case, our community has not passed an operational levy to increase funding locally for our schools since 1993. There may not be another district in your viewing area where a quarter century has passed since their community last approved new operational levy funds. We work with the funding we are provided, and our team is laser focused on getting the most out of available resources in order to provide every student with the best educational experience. Our significant academic improvement over the past 10-15 years shows that we are on the right path.
Upper Arlington City Schools did not respond to our request for comment.