In 1991, more than 500 Ohio school districts filed suit against the state, claiming that relying on property taxes for school funding unfairly favored districts with higher property values, i.e. richer neighborhoods. The Supreme Court agreed, stating that the state legislature had to provide a more equitable means of financing education.
Nearly 30 years after the initial lawsuit, schools are still funded in noncompliance with the Court’s order as lawmakers in Columbus have yet to remedy school funding in Ohio.
How public schools are funded
Public school districts receive a combination of federal, state, and local funds. The amount a district receives is based on a formula to cover their costs, which takes into account student enrollment and the property wealth of the district.
Recently, the tangible personal property tax (TPP) was eliminated, leaving districts to recoup this money by asking taxpayers to support a levy. Jeff Fouke, Washington Local Schools (WLS) Treasurer, explained that WLS previously received $15 million from state funding sources; this year, they are earmarked to receive only $2.9 million.
Matt Durham, WLS Social Studies teacher, stated, “Supporting schools is definitely a worthwhile cause. I’ve always voted for school levies because it’s just the right thing to do. However, I also understand why taxpayers have reservations. Situations differ and some people are living paycheck to paycheck, while others, like my grandparents, are on a fixed income.”
WLS has approximately 7,000 students, but the district is only receiving funding for roughly 5,000 because the state capped funding. Two thousand students, the number of students attending Whitmer High School, are being educated without funds from the state. This is happening in schools all across the state.
Richard Reucher, Assistant Treasurer for Toledo Public Schools (TPS), explained, “The Governor’s 2020-2021 state budget included a ‘freeze’…if in the fiscal year 2019 a school received a million dollars of state funding, they [will receive] that same million for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. As a result, if some school districts experience a significant increase in enrollment, they are forced, by law, to educate these students with the same resources as before.”
One local teacher stated that things are so tight in her urban school that she spends $200-400/year out-of-pocket to provide materials to her classroom.
EdChoice, a state scholarship program that offers K-12 students living in “underperforming” school districts the opportunity to attend a participating private school, may sound like a good idea, but when a student uses an EdChoice scholarship, the money follows the student out of their home district. Yet when a student enrolls in a district that has been capped, no additional money is provided to educate that student.
In WLS alone, approximately $786,000 is deducted from the district yearly and provided to non-public schools. Of the 131 students utilizing EdChoice, over 120 students never attended a WLS school. Similarly, TPS Reucher states that over $6.6 million is leaving TPS as a result of EdChoice.
Dr. Anstadt, WLS superintendent, explains that $38 million in additional deductions will be taken away from public schools across Ohio in one year, almost entirely for students who never attended public schools.
According to Sylvania Schools treasurer Lisa Shanks, House Bill 920, which passed in 1976, forces school districts to levy their local residents for more funds every 2 to 3 years due to inflation. Sylvania is a growing district with home values going up, yet they are not receiving more funds. The bill reduces the school tax rate so that schools will never see these increases.
Sylvania parent Peter Hoffman voiced, “Sylvania’s taxes are a good investment in our community, but it’s also a lot of money! I am happy with the school district as a whole, but I realize there are funding shortfalls. I hope the district can sustain itself in the midst of population growth and continued state cuts.”
When you hear that public schools are facing funding cuts, it means that the state is providing districts with less money, while at the same time allocating it elsewhere. It could also mean that the state has capped the monies, regardless of increasing enrollment.
Simply put: Public schools are expected to fully equip young people to be workplace ready and/or capable of pursuing secondary education, yet more and more operating funds are being taken away from school districts. The cliche marketing tagline rings true: “Do more with less.” Our public schools are doing their best, but the struggle of greater needs and less money to pay for them is overwhelming.