Ohio’s school funding formula is broken. The current system of funding, which depends so heavily on property taxes, was declared unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1997. Many of the children who were in Ohio’s schools in 1997 now have children of their own.
Meanwhile, several factors affect the funding for local school districts:
- The money received from existing school levies is not adjusted accordingly when property values increase. HB920, which was passed in 1976 when inflation was soaring, was designed to act as a circuit breaker on individual property tax increases. It freezes a school district’s income on voted mills. Thus, if property values increase in a district, the effective millage, by law, has to go down. The only way to raise additional funds is to put a new levy on the ballot. This tends to happen about every three years because that’s how often properties are reassessed. School districts are one of the few government entities that currently have no effective way of dealing with inflation.
- Charter schools take money from local school budgets. The regulation of charter schools has been so notoriously lax that one charter school, ECOT, effectively stole at least $60 million dollars from the state by committing fraud. Charter schools do no better than public schools in educating our children. You can see which charter schools take money from your local school district and their report card ratings at knowyourcharter.com.
- The school voucher system, EdChoice, is a mess. Under the current regulations, the number of “failing” schools was set to triple to 1200 on February 1, 2020 (now April 1). This is approximately one third of the school buildings in Ohio. The increase was primarily due to the lapse of the “safe harbor” clause, which allowed school districts to adapt to the changing state requirements. The school report card system is obviously not working, but there are other problems with the program.
At the same time that the number of supposedly failing schools was dramatically increasing, the amount for each voucher was also increasing. Today, for high school students, the amount of the voucher is almost as much as the state provides to a local school district per student. This makes vouchers more attractive to private schools.
There is nothing in the current program to prevent students who are assigned to a failing school, but have never attended a school in the district, from using a voucher. In other words, public school districts are paying a student’s tuition at a private school that they were planning to attend anyway. A survey conducted in northeast Ohio found that more than 60% of vouchers went to students who had never gone to any public school.
The State of Ohio has a constitutional obligation to make public education available to all its children. We need to consider all options to make the system equitable, including the following ideas:
- Repealing HB920 or replacing it with a statute that reflects modern-day realities
- Banning future for-profit charter schools and installing strict oversight on the ones that remain
- Fixing the state’s report card system
- Having each charter school’s report card stand on its own rather than allowing an operator to use the report card of other schools in its organization (some of them not even in Ohio) to shield a failing school
- Replacing the current performance-based vouchers with need-based scholarships
- Starting state-wide academies, similar to what other states have established, to serve as the pinnacle of Ohio’s public education system
- Finding a stable source of state funding that does not rely on ever-increasing property taxes and distributing the added revenues in a fair manner