children lose again
Once again, the Ohio
Supreme Court has ruled that the way Ohio funds its public schools is
unconstitutional. And once again, the ruling will mean little. Despite
a strongly worded opinion from the court, a number of political leaders
in Columbus say they have done enough for Ohios children, indicating
they will ignore the ruling.
Those lawmakers, including Ohio Governor Bob Taft, need to realize that,
despite the rhetoric and past efforts to improve the funding system, little
has changed. Schools are still funded based on local property taxes. Communities
rich in expensive property have a distinct advantage over poorer ones.
A number of other communities are stuck somewhere in between. In Yellow
Springs, our public schools receive a set amount from the State, forcing
the district to rely on local residents and businesses to shoulder the
funding load. Year after year, levy after levy, local residents have been
willing to do this, but one must wonder, for how long can we keep this
Reviewing the 11-year-old school funding case in December, a sharply divided
Supreme Court ruled 43, for the fourth time, that Ohio has not done
enough to balance the funding discrepancy. The court ordered the Ohio
General Assembly to fix the funding system, which the court has said relies
too heavily on property taxes, and completely overhaul the funding formula.
The court, however, also relinquished control of the case, and did not
provide a road map for lawmakers or a way for the court to enforce this
latest ruling. Such a decision could allow the Republican lawmakers who
dominate Columbus to once again skirt around the courts ruling.
This, it appears, is what the governor and General Assembly may do. Many
lawmakers, including Gov. Taft, Attorney General Betty Montgomery and
Richard Finan, the Senate president who is retiring this month because
of term limits, essentially said they would do nothing but uphold the
status quo. Gov. Taft said he will not ignore the ruling, but will not
let it guide his budget or education priorities.
Bucking this trend was Speaker of the House Larry Householder of Perry
County, who said he would try to draft another plan to fix the system.
Those who agree with the latest Supreme Court ruling should root for Mr.
Householder, but it is likely he will not be successful. Because the Supreme
Court is now off the case, the General Assembly can sit on its hands,
and the state coffers.
The court will also undergo a change this month, when Lieutenant Governor
Maureen OConnor takes a seat on the court, replacing retiring Justice
Andrew Douglas, who has voted with the majority on the funding case. Ms.
OConnor is expected to shift the majority opinion on the court,
thus decreasing the chances of a complete overhaul of the funding system.
A district like Yellow Springs has less to lose on this controversial
issue than poorer school districts that were originally represented in
the funding case. So our schools are less likely to be affected if nothing
changes. But many other districts in Ohio have much to lose. Unless something
unexpected happens in Columbus, poorer school districts are likely to
fall short once again.