Ohio gets low grade for school funding
Before the Republican controlled state General Assembly decides to ignore the recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling that found the system of funding public primary and secondary education to be unconstitutional, lawmakers should read the report released by Education Week magazine.
When they do, they will react with the same sense of despair as we did -- if they are willing to keep an open mind and set partisan politics aside.
According to the report titled "Outlook 2003 State of the States," Ohio earned a grade of D- for the way it distributes money to the schools. The distribution formula fails to address the special needs in those districts that are considered poor because of low property values.
"Students attending public schools in Ohio cities are more likely than their classmates in wealthier suburban schools to be taught by a teacher without proper credentials," the report says. This "teacher gap" ultimately creates a system of academic haves and have-nots.
The bottom line of the report is simply this: a district that's financially flush can afford to hire highly qualified teachers, thereby assuring the students a top-notch education. On the other hand, urban school districts like Youngstown, which are strapped for cash due to low property values, aren't able to hire the best and the brightest to teach children who need a strong academic foundation.
And that's what the Supreme Court said in its recent ruling in the DeRolph school funding case. The four justices in the majority opined that the constitutional requirement of a thorough and efficient education for every child in Ohio centers on money. They contended that a two-tier system of education has evolved in Ohio. Wealthy suburban school districts invariably score high in the state proficiency tests; poor urban districts struggle to avoid state-sanctioned academic emergency.
In ruling that the current system of funding Ohio's public primary and secondary schools is unconstitutional, the justices suggested that a new source of revenue be found that would lessen the dependence on property taxes.
But the court did not set a deadline by which the Ohio General Assembly must have a new funding system in place, which means that the Republican legislative leadership is under no pressure to act.
However, fairness dictates that lawmakers take up this issue with a sense of urgency.
As William L. Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & amp; Adequacy of School Funding, put it, "Our particular concern is not that we take away from districts that have appropriate programs. Our strategy has always been to level up from the bottom. That report [from Education Week] is saying that people at the bottom are in pretty bad shape."
Indeed, the report gives Ohio a B for adequacy of resources. That should please the governor and the GOP leaders in the General Assembly who have long fought any tax increase for education. But the D- grade for distributing the money should prompt them to act.
Pennsylvania is in the same boat as Ohio, even though its system of funding public education has not been challenged in court.