Debate Resumes Over Ohio’s School Funding Formula

A group backing voter approval of a constitutional amendment to change school funding in Ohio faces an August 8th deadline to turn in more than 400-thousand signatures of registered voters. The amendment seeks to bring equity to school funding in Ohio ten years after the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. But, an opponent of the amendment contends the proposal will “bankrupt the state.”

The Group called “Getting It Right for Ohio’s Future,” will spend the next two months collecting signatures of registered voters. If their effort succeeds, Ohio voters will decide in November whether to change the way schools are funded. Ohio School Boards Association Executive Director, Rick Lewis, is among the backers of the proposal. “The Supreme Court has ruled four times that our funding formula is unconstituional and we believe that taking it to the people is the best way to fix it, to get it right.” Says Lewis.

The debate over school funding in Ohio is decades old. Much of the tension hinges on the gap in per pupil expenditures between wealthy suburban school districts and poorer rural schools. Ohio University Dean of Education, Rene Middleton, helps document the gap in research of Ohio classrooms in Appalachia. “I saw encyclopedias, encyclopedias, first of all the fact that I saw encyclopedias. But the fact that I saw encyclopedias that dated back to the 60s. and 70s. I mean knowledge is increasing. How can we prepare these children to be competitiive in today’s world.” Says Professor Middleton.

Middleton say many students who attend rural schools go to class in leaky buildings with peeling paint and idle computers for lack of software. She traces much of the problem to what she calls the state’s over-reliance on property taxes to fund its schools. “When you fund schools based on property taxes you are saying its O-K to have an inequitable system and I just don’t think that’s right.” Adds Middleton.

The proposal being circulated in Ohio this summer would still pay for schools with both state and locally generated funds but it would shift much of the burden to the state. Backer Rick Lewis touts the proposal as good for schools and good for property owners. “Would it actually reduce dependence on property taxes?” Asks Borgerding. “We believe so. The first thing that happens is that high quality costs of education would be funded by identifying the components that go into the high quality education and requiring the state to pay a higher portion of that bill. It will guarantee accounability with public reports. we believe it will reduce the number of new local property tax levies, cut property taxes for seniors and the disabled.” Says Lewis

But opponents of the proposal are skeptical, Worthington school board Marc Schare says the proposed constitutional amendment will bankrupt the state. Schare says even though language in the amendment is vague, he thinks it will have a negative effect on Worthington schools. “The amendment is bad for Worthington, what it would do is give voters outside of Worthington the ability to decide that Worthington taxpayers should increase their income taxes and their sales taxes to pay for education outside of Worthington, And as a member of the Worthington Board of Education I think that my first responsibility is to represent my constituents. Taking money away from Worthington and sending it to other school districts is not in the best interest of the Worthington taxpayer.” Says Schare.

Schare says if the school funding amendment is approved, Worthington voters will likely reject future local requests for property taxes for schools and he thinks that will hurt the city’s program. The Worthington Board recently voted to support the petition effort to get the proposal on the November ballot. Schare dissented. Other school boards in Franklin County and around the state are split in their support for the proposal.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News

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