Ohio's state constitution commits the General Assembly (state legislature) to providing "for a thorough and efficient system of common schools."
While local school districts must be held accountable for educating students and spending local tax dollars wisely, it's also imperative that we insist that the General Assembly and Governor Bob Taft straighten out the school funding mess. It's the state school funding formula which requires districts to go back to the voters for levy renewals and increases so often.
Several years ago, the governor appointed a blue ribbon task force to suggest a reform plan.
The elements of the proposal...
(1) Educational adequacy would be fully funded by the state. Currently, state law requires that each school district maintain a "floor" of funding through a minimum 20-mill levy. Under the panel's proposal, all local levies would be done away with and replaced with a single statewide 20-mill levy on property taxes. This would result in no difference in what taxpayers pay for the "floor" of educational funding and that no districts would cry, "Poor!" because they refuse to adequately fund schools at the local level.
(2) There would be a de-politicized plan for determining the actual cost of educating a child. Currently, one of the ways "phantom revenue" can be created is by playing games with this number.
(3) The so-called "charge off" would be eliminated! This is one of the biggest culprits in the creation of "phantom revenue." Here's the current basic formula for how state revenue--taxpayer money meant to be designated in part for education--goes toward local school districts:
Cost of Doing Business (CODB) multiplied by
Number of Students multiplied by
Formula for dollars per Student (cost of educating a student)
23 mills multiplied by
Here are several things to be noted:
(a) In his latest proposed biennial budget, Governor Taft is eliminating the local CODB which, though sometimes applied capriciously, has somewhat blunted the injustices of Ohio's school funding formula.
(b) The gap between the 20-mill required floor and the 23-mill "charge-off" puts local school districts in a "deficit" situation as regards state funding from the get-go. Any school district that seeks anything less than 3 additional mills of property taxes from its community is automatically penalized with fewer of the tax dollars its citizens paid into the system.
(c) Property valuation is another place where a shell game is played with our tax dollars. Let's say a school district gets a three-year levy renewal. Irrespective of the millage and irrespective of any increases that individual taxpayers may pay on their properties in the course of a levy's renewed period, school districts currently receive no increased revenues from the houses and developed real estate that exist at the beginning of the levy renewal period. The only new monies the districts will receive in the course of this renewal period is from new housing or developments.
This is particularly unfair. Voters vote for the levy for the schools. The county collects the monies. But through the state's funding formula, that money--our money--disappears.
The three basic elements I mention above will go a long way toward straightening out the public school funding mess and toward insuring that our state is honest and accountable in funding public education.
Our public school districts aren't perfect. But they (and we taxpayers) need a state school funding system that is honest, clear, and fair. Write your state senator (Tom Niehaus) and state representative (either Joe Uecker or Danny Bupb) and tell them that.
For a copy of the blue ribbon task force's report, go to http://www.blueribbontaskforce.ohio.gov.
In order to advocate for the task force's reforms, you can find out who your state representative is at http://www.house.state.oh.us/jsps/Representatives.jsp. And you can do the same thing with your state senator by looking at: http://www.senate.state.oh.us/senators/.
[Check out the first article in this two-part series here.]