Monday, May 28, 2007

Dispatch on the School Funding Amendment

On Memorial Day, the Columbus Dispatch ran a brief article on the proposed school funding amendment. The focus of the story was whether Central Ohio school districts were supporting it. Districts named in the story were taking this position:

  1. Worthington: encouraging voters to sign the petition, but unwilling to endorse it
  2. Hilliard: endorses the amendment
  3. Southwestern: endorses the amendment
  4. Whitehall: endorses the amendment
  5. Bexley: tabled resolution to endorse without vote
  6. Westerville: tabled resolution to endorse without vote

In the typical shallow reporting we have seen from the Dispatch on this matter, the story fell short in several ways:

  • There was no comment from Columbus Public Schools, the largest school district in Ohio. One would think they would have a position on this subject, although it would be interesting to learn what that is. Columbus Public Schools current spends $11,364 per student, of which half comes from local property taxes. That puts them in the 75th percentile in local per-student funding (about 25% collect more locally, 75% collect less). Could it be that CPS officials fear that the new amendment could actually provide them with less?
  • Once again the story blames the supposed failure of the current school funding system on its reliance on local property taxes. This is not true! The problem with current school funding is that the General Assembly does not allocate enough money in the State Budget to fully the fund the existing formula. If it did, there would be no call for an amendment. So the big question is: if this amendment were passed, would the General Assembly allocate enough money to fund it? If so, where would that money come from? If not, what recourse is there other than to tie up the courts for years?
  • Officials of high growth districts like Southwestern and Hilliard support the amendment because they believe it allows revenue to grow with student population. I think this is a naive analysis. The amendment language has a provision which allows the State Board of Education to cap the amount of money a district receives if the State Board thinks a district would otherwise get more than it needs. Southwestern, which currently generates $4,589 per student (49% of its total funding) with local property taxes, might benefit from greater reliance on state funding, but this is less likely to be true for Hilliard, for which local property taxes generate $6,266 (63%) of its per pupil funding could be one of those districts that gets capped, just like New Albany, Dublin, Upper Arlington and Bexley.
  • The main beneficiaries of this amendment are the teachers, whose salaries and benefits consume 85%+ of the operating budget of school systems. They want to break the protections of HB920 which keep property taxes from increasing due to reassessments of home values. The teacher's unions make the claim that changes in home values are reflective of 'inflation', which is bunk. The primary cause of the increase in operating costs in our schools are the automatic increases embedded in the teacher's collective bargain agreement. I don't fault the teachers for their agreement -- I disagree with the district leadership for wanting my taxes to go up automatically just so they don't have to put a levy on the ballot every once in a while and ask those of us in the community if we're still happy with the deal.

One of the selling points of the new amendment is that is supposedly ends the "Robin Hood" approach to school funding in Ohio. Actually it promotes it. The poorer districts still don't get enough money, and they want more from the richest. Hilliard is in the 80th percentile in local per-student funding. Do you think we will have a net gain or a net loss in a new allocation system?

Once again, I don't have a problem saying that there are districts in Ohio that are underfunded, or that the richer districts will have to contribute to fix this, even if it means my taxes will go up.

I'm just tired of the hidden agendas and political maneuvering.


  1. Unless the state can get a handle on K-12 education expenses, including salary/benefit increases of 2 or 3 times the inflation rate, no school funding formula will ever yield enough money to satisfy the appetites of the adults in the system. The system we have now - 614 school districts, unique taxing jurisdictions, competing against each other with taxpayer dollars in a futile attempt to stay competitive is crazy. There are dozens of things that can be done before turning a blank check over to the state board of education.

  2. Thanks for the comment. You would think that there is at least one Board member in those 614 districts who understands this dynamic and is willing to speak up about it.