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SCHOOL FUNDING Educators rail against ruling



Published: Fri, September 7, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The high court's decision was 'cowardly and self-serving,' one educator said.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Local educators expressed disappointment to outright disgust at the Ohio Supreme Court's latest ruling on school funding, and one predicted that the legal battles have just begun.

"What you're going to have is an ongoing struggle as to where that line for an adequate education is," said Dr. Tod Porter, chairman of Youngstown State University's economics department. "In some ways, it will be surprising if there aren't future court cases over that issue."

After twice ruling against the state in a 10-year-old lawsuit, the high court ruled 4-3 Thursday that the state's latest school funding plan is constitutional as long as the state increases basic spending on students and speeds up spending to help narrow the gap between rich and poor districts.

Washing its hands: The court also said it was ending its involvement in the case, effectively turning the issue back to the General Assembly.

Dr. Anthony D'Ambrosio, superintendent of the Trumbull County Educational Service Center, said he can understand the court's desire to end the case.

"I had become concerned that I wouldn't see this resolved in my lifetime," he said.

But the court left many questions unanswered. "There's still fundamentally a constitutional crisis as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Porter agreed. "In many ways, this represents a missed opportunity to require the state to fundamentally change the system of funding," he said.

Still not right: The lawsuit has been successful in increasing funding for poorer school districts, yet the basic funding formula remains flawed and still relies heavily on local property taxes, he said.

"There is some concern as to whether this will be a lasting solution," he added.

Porter testified for the coalition of more than 500 Ohio school districts that sued the state in the original 1991 school funding trial in Perry County.

Edna Anderson, superintendent of the Columbiana County Career Center and a member of the coalition's steering committee, said the coalition will continue working with the Legislature to improve funding.

"I am a little disappointed that the court wasn't a little more aggressive," Anderson said.

Stronger opinion: Another steering committee member was more forceful:

"It's a cowardly and self-serving decision," said James Hall, South Range schools superintendent.

"The purpose of making this decision was to end the debate and get rid of the case. It didn't have any focus on children."

There's only one avenue left to correct the situation, he said.

"If you have people in the Legislature and on the court who are, despite their words, fairly hard-hearted when it comes to children, the only logical thing to do is change the people who are in the Legislature and on the court."

In a bind: D'Ambrosio said the added funding ordered by the court, which some say could amount to nearly $1 billion, puts lawmakers and Gov. Bob Taft in a bind.

"They've already cut the budget to the bone; their revenue projections are down, and they don't want to raise taxes," he said. "Where are they going to get the money?"

Hall said the extra money ordered by the court is nothing more than "a bone" that the justices hope will placate the plaintiffs.

"The children of Ohio were given a cookie today, but there's no commitment to their next meal," he said.




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