State share of education spending reverses positive trend

In 1991, Perry County high school student Nathan DeRolph filed a lawsuit against the State of Ohio for failing to provide him and every child in the state a “thorough and efficient” system of public common schools. Six years later, in a landmark Ohio Supreme Court case, the Court ruled that DeRolph was right; the way Ohio funded its schools ran afoul of the Ohio Constitution. The central bone of contention in the case was the “overreliance” on property taxes to pay for schools. Relying on property taxes, which produce extremely different amounts of money based on a community’s wealth, further accentuates existing inequities across communities, the Court reasoned.

So the Court ordered the state legislature to beef up the state support to its public schools enough so that districts would not have to rely as much on property taxes to pay for its operations.

After three more rulings asserting that the state had failed to do that, the Ohio Supreme Court decided to drop the case in 2002. Here’s what happened:

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Click for full-size image. Data from ODE Interactive Local Report Card, federal funding excluded.

What data from the Ohio Department of Education show in stark terms is this: Between 1994 and 2007, the only time Ohio’s legislature increased state funding for education relative to local property taxes was during the period that the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the system unconstitutional. And as soon as the Court dropped the case, the state legislature once again reduced the state’s relative funding to schools, compared with property taxes, forcing locals to pay more.

Later, during the Strickland administration, that gap actually disappeared. The final year of Gov. Strickland’s last budget (House Bill 1) was the only school year on record in which the state provided a larger share of the cost for education than local property taxpayers did. It also represents the only time since 1994 that Ohio has had two-party legislative and gubernatorial rule.

When current Gov. John Kasich and a legislative GOP supermajority came into office in 2011, they dumped the Strickland funding model, cutting $1.8 billion for education. As a result, the state share dropped to its lowest level since the 2004-2005 school year. Not surprisingly, we have seen districts go for record amounts of new property taxes since that time, as local funding must fill the gap left by reduced state support.

What the state data demonstrate is this: unless the legislature takes seriously its mandate to act based on findings of an unconstitutional funding system, local property taxpayers will be left to foot the bill for education.