January 2, 2003
front page
more news
ad information
contact information



Ohio's 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 Ohio’s 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 up?

Reviewing the 11-year-old school funding case in December, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled 4–3, 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 court’s 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 O’Connor takes a seat on the court, replacing retiring Justice Andrew Douglas, who has voted with the majority on the funding case. Ms. O’Connor 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.


—Robert Mihalek