Small Towns Update: May 18th

Ohio House in Turmoil

The fallout from Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s resignation in response to an FBI probe continues to leave a cloud over the Statehouse. His departure has created a leadership vacuum and left all legislative business in the House at a standstill. In order to conduct official business as a body – such as voting on legislation – a new speaker must be elected. Due to divisions in the Republican House Caucus, it appears that no member of the party currently has enough support to reach the 50 votes required to install a new Speaker.

The result of this is that it is possible that we will not see ANY further legislation voted out by the House of Representatives until NEXT year when new members are sworn in.

New Report Highlights Effects of Opioid Epidemic on Ohio’s Children

The Public Children’s Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO) recently released a report titled “Foster Hope for Ohio’s Children” which outlined policy proposals addressing Ohio’s current crisis with at-risk children. The report highlights just how devastating the drug epidemic continues to be for many children in Ohio. PCSAO estimates that the amount of children in foster care will increase by 1/3 by 2020.

In conjunction with the higher demand, PCSAO also estimates that foster care placement costs will likely see a 67% increase from current levels by 2020. This increased demand has/will strain an already under resourced area. Remarkably, Ohio ranks LAST in the U.S. when it comes to state funding of Children’s Services programs. This lack of state investment has forced Ohio’s local governments to fill the gap – while also dealing with state cuts in other sectors.

Levy Results From Last Week’s Primary Highlight Ongoing Challenges

As noted above, Ohio’s Children Services organizations face immense challenges. Insufficient state investment has forced counties to go directly to voters to shore up these programs.

Just last week, four predominately rural counties had levies on the ballot seeking additional funding for Children’s Services.

Those counties included: Hancock, Hocking, Jackson, and Washington. Of those four, only Washington’s passed. This is a step back from last November’s election which saw 12 of 13 Children’s Services levies pass.

Diana Hoover, the Director of the Hancock County JFS, painted a dire picture regarding the failure of her county’s levy as she estimated that her agency will run out of money for Children’s Services by June. With no additional state aid in sight, it will fall to the Hancock County Commission to develop a solution to the shortfall.

The need for reforms to Ohio’s unconstitutional school funding method was once again highlighted last week as 92 schools had funding requests on the ballot. 68% of those requests were approved, which is line with the November 2017 results that saw a 71% approval rate.

Many of those schools with unsuccessful levies now face severe consequences. In no place is that more evident than the Alexander School District in rural Athens County. Alexander had its fourth consecutive attempt at securing a levy defeated 51%-49%, by just a 60 vote margin. Significantly reduced state funding to the tune of $3.7 million biannually has already caused the school to eliminate 20 teaching positions over the past decade. School officials have proposed scaling back busing. The district may go back to voters for a fifth time this November.

 

State Responsibility?

The pulling back of state investment to local communities has been a constant theme of Ohio’s legislature over the past 8 years. This decision has had significant real world effects in the state. From the accelerating drug epidemic, to Ohio’s struggling schools, it is clear that certain investments need to be made to turn the state around. Look for this issue to play an outsized role in the debate over the state’s direction as we enter the run up to the November election.