YOUNGSTOWN YSU, other officials worry that ruling could affect higher education funds
More money for schools may mean less for universities, higher education leaders say.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Youngstown State University and higher education officials statewide fear Ohio's public universities could be the real losers in this week's school funding ruling.
"The money has got to come from somewhere because there is no environment for increasing taxes, and so I think all of higher education has to be deeply concerned," YSU President David Sweet said.
"It creates a very uncertain picture."
Court's ruling: The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 Thursday that the state's latest plan for funding education for pupils in kindergarten through 12th grade is constitutional.
But the court ordered the state to increase basic spending on pupils and speed up spending to help narrow the gap between rich and poor districts.
That will mean the General Assembly could have to come up with at least an additional $300 million, and as much as $1.2 billion, for K-12 education.
Sweet and other Ohio higher education leaders fear lawmakers could look to the state's public colleges and universities to find the additional funds.
"There clearly is going to be an unprecedented set of discussions that emerges in Columbus" as a result of the high court's decision, Sweet said.
Sweet said Gov. Bob Taft was at YSU's football game last week and assured him that higher education is in line for any additional money that may come into the state budget. The court's ruling will likely change that.
"I hope the inverse of that isn't true, that higher education is first in line when we have to steal some resources to reallocate them to K through 12," Sweet said.
Sweet has at least one ally in that respect. Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, called for lawmakers to restore cuts made last spring to higher education.
He called for the Legislature to raise revenue by closing tax loopholes and increasing taxes.
"It's time to stop playing politics and face the fact that Ohio needs more revenue to fund education adequately," Mooney said.
Tax increase: Sweet said a tax increase seems remote, "unless they put it on the ballot and let the people decide what to do."
Voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative in 1998 to raise taxes for K-12 education.
About half of YSU's general fund budget comes from state allocations. In the state budget approved in July, YSU received a 1 percent increase in funding in fiscal year 2002, and will receive no increase the following year.
Tuition raises: The budget crunch forced public universities statewide to boost tuition as much as 9 percent this year.
Roderick Chu, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, said he hopes lawmakers view education as a whole -- from kindergarten through college -- when making funding decisions now that the high court has ruled.
He noted that preliminary census findings show that Ohio has slipped from 39th to 41st in the nation in four-year college attainment.
"There is clearly considerable work yet to be done to change Ohio's state of mind about the value of all education," he said in a prepared statement.