SCHOOL FUNDING Report: Numbers show declining aid

Officials say they could have to cut some activities if a tax levy doesn't pass.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- The state may be giving more money to Ohio schools, but spending power is dropping, according to a newspaper analysis.
When numbers are adjusted for inflation, the past two years have reversed a five-year trend of rising funding for Ohio's 612 school districts, the Akron Beacon Journal reported Sunday.
One in three districts in the 2003-04 school year had fewer inflation-adjusted dollars to spend per pupil than in 2001-02, Ohio Department of Education data showed. The analysis includes federal, state and local money.
Some districts are turning to the voters to make up the difference. A February record of 63 school funding issues will be before voters Tuesday, and districts are warning that sports, marching bands and other activities could be cut if levies don't pass.
Cutting costs
Officials in the South-Western City Schools near Columbus said they will have to cancel all extracurricular activities at four high schools if voters don't approve a 9.7-mill levy Tuesday.
The state's sixth-largest district with 20,700 students, South-Western is one of 210 districts in the newspaper's list of those with a decline in inflation-adjusted revenue.
Losing $4 million a year to charter schools adds to the problem, district spokesman Jeffrey Warner said.
"We lose the local share on that, and that is something the public doesn't grasp and the legislators won't admit," Warner said.
The Ohio Supreme Court in 1997 ruled that Ohio's school funding system unconstitutionally relies too much on property taxes. Lawmakers responded by increasing funding about 24 percent per pupil by 2002 and committed more than $10 billion to a construction program.
But the court told the Legislature in subsequent rulings that the system wasn't fixed.
With new members, the Supreme Court said in May 2003 that it no longer would attempt to enforce its ruling and handed responsibility to state leaders.
Gov. Bob Taft said he will continue to place a high priority on school funding when he announces his budget on Thursday.
But he urged education leaders to take the initiative to place a constitutional amendment before voters that would allow property tax collections to rise with property values -- ending a freeze on revenue that keeps districts going back to the ballot.
Some educators remain worried about the system, and about Taft's proposal to attract business to the state by eliminating a tax that also brings them revenue.
"The legislature and the governor are not at all concerned about the court looking over their shoulder," said William Phillis, executive director of the coalition of more than 500 districts whose lawsuit led to the 1997 ruling. "Any way you look at it, there is a shift from business to the individual [taxpayer]," he said.

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