IO November 2012 School Levy Project Wrap: Kasich cuts have shifted tax burden or put schools in dire situations

Dyer: Ohio’s reliance on property tax system to fund schools growing, not shrinking under Kasich

Back in October we released an analysis which showed that November school levy initiatives seeking ‘new money’ were the highest since 2008. Just last year, the administration of Gov. John Kasich and the GOP-led Ohio General Assembly cut $1.8 billion from Ohio public education. We believe there is a cause and effect relationship here and it boils down to this: Kasich’s cuts – while making the state budget look better – simply shifted the burden in many villages and cities around Ohio onto the backs of local property tax payers.

Of course, in many cases, the levies failed. In those communities Kasich and his rubber stamp Statehouse shifted the burden onto Ohio kids who are losing teachers, bus service, extra-curricular activities and even hours out of the school day. Where new levies pass, the funding burden is shifting to more property taxes.

As part of the project we posted several levy profiles on our blog, Innovation Station, and began maintaining a page dedicated to collecting our analysis, profiles and infographics on the topic, Kasich Cuts = More Levies. We want to wrap up the work from this fall, but we will continue to watch what we believe is going to be an unfortunate trend for some time to come in Ohio – more levies or more drastic cuts.

A few things to remember about our work. First, we concentrated on ‘new money’ levies. This simply means that districts we looked at were coming to voters with requests for additional or new millage requests. We did not count renewal levies for instance when we pointed out that 83% of Ohio’s counties had new money levies on the ballot. When it came to the districts we chose to profile, there were two criteria. They had to be new money levies and the districts had to have a documented history of recent fairly drastic cuts. Through a review of Ohio local media, such districts – large and small – were not hard to find. One last note on why we chose to look at fall levies rather than all levies from both the spring and fall of this year. The chart to the right shows the success rate of renewal levies v. new levies during fall elections in Ohio. New money levies have a high rate of failure in fall elections. School boards know this. For a board to go to voters for new money in the fall is a sign that funding issues are getting to critical condition in that district.

Starting with the big picture, I asked IO Education Fellow Steve Dyer to sum up his thoughts after November 6th’s election results.

“The people of Ohio demonstrated true civic patriotism this November. Gov. Kasich and his allies in the General Assembly put a gun to their heads and the people of Ohio chose to support their schools and communities. This Kasich Property Tax Increase is striking for its size and scope compared with a similar, recent general election cycle,” Dyer said

“What’s clear from these figures is that, thanks to unprecedented cuts passed by Gov. Kasich and his legislative allies last year, Ohioans are more dependent upon property tax levies to pay for their kids’ education than ever. Perhaps the General Assembly and Gov. Kasich need a refresher about what the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on four separate occasions – that it is the state’s duty to reduce the reliance on property taxes, not increase it.”

Dyer’s point of comparison was the 2008 general election cycle. He provided some numbers from then and now for comparison:

  • According to the Ohio School Boards Association database, there were 19 new money operating property tax levies that passed in 2008, raising $93 million — an average of $4.8 million per levy.
  • In 2012, the 31 levies that passed raised about $202 million — an average of $6.5 million per levy.
  • In 2008, the 52 new money operating property tax levies on the ballot would have raised a total of about $210 million, if all had passed.
  • In 2012, the 92 new money operating property tax levies on the ballot would have raised a total of about $373 million, if all had passed.

Dyer points out in the 2008 v. 2012 comparison that Ohio voters were being asked to approve many more increases in property taxes that accounted for a substantial increase in overall dollars proposed from 2008 to 2012. Again, the primary difference between 2008 and 2012 were the huge cuts to public education made by Kasich and legislators during the 2011 state budget process.

What about the school districts whose levies we profiled?

Of the twelve districts we profiled, 5 passed their new money levies and 7 failed. One district, Massillon City School District, passed their levy by only one vote, so after provisional votes are counted that outcome may change. If you looked at the chart above in this post, you know that historically new money levies only pass 32 percent of the time during fall elections. The levies we profiled had a pass/fail rate close to that, although if Massillon fails, it will be nearly the same. On our list, 42 percent of levies passed and 58 percent failed.

What awaits those districts? In the worst case, a reduction of hours in the school day. There is no best case. At the least, most districts will need to pare back staff further and cut classes like music and gym in elementary schools.

What’s next? Innovation Ohio will continue to monitor the situation in Ohio where the state forsakes public education pushing the burden down the line onto property owners. The same situation is brewing with municipal governments as well. For more than 75 years, the state of Ohio had set aside some funds each year for local governments. This fund has been  put on a trajectory to be zero over the next couple of years. Kasich and company have also repealed the Estate Tax, a tax which affected relatively few Ohioans, but paid dividends to local governments. Both the cuts in school funding and local government support were made after relatively little debate and with no plan for local communities to cope or recover – other than raise their own taxes.

On the future for public education, Dyer said, “Perhaps Gov. Kasich and his allies will take a cue from the civic patriots who voted for school levies this November. Perhaps Ohio voters will finally see an end to the constant need for escalating property taxes. Perhaps our leaders in Columbus will decide to become as committed to our children’s education as Ohio’s voters are –  but I’m not holding my breath.”