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Funding plan is on agenda

Equal funding for state school districts – from the property tax rich ones to the tax poor ones – rests in judicial and legislative hands, Ohio schools superintendent Dr.

Friday, December 03, 1999

Equal funding for state school districts – from the property tax rich ones to the tax poor ones – rests in judicial and legislative hands, Ohio schools superintendent Dr. Susan Tave-Zelman said.

"I think we need to see what the court case says first," Dr. Zelman said during a visit to Lawrence County Thursday.

The Ohio Supreme Court is questioning whether the Legislature has provided enough money to meet a 1997 court order to fix the way public schools are funded.

The court ruled in 1997 that Ohio’s funding system was unconstitutional because it did not provide a ”thorough and efficient” education for every child.

The Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, which filed the 1991 lawsuit that started the case, now wants the Supreme Court to find that the state’s response remains inadequate. The court is not expected to issue a decision until early next year.

In the meantime, the state school board and Dr. Zelman will begin the budget process.

Once the court case is settled, the question will become what funding and state assistance do the schools need, Dr. Zelman said.

She would not release details of any preliminary figures or speculate on what revenues or funding measures for which she would ask.

"My job is to recommend to the legislature and the state board that schools have the resources they need," she said. "But, ultimately, it’s a legislative decision."

State Rep. Bill Ogg, D-Sciotoville, who represents Lawrence County, said the Legislature is waiting on the Supreme Court, too.

"There’s not anything being done on changing the funding formula right now," Ogg said. "I don’t foresee a lot of action except for the tobacco settlement."

State leaders have pledged dollars to school from tobacco company lawsuit settlements. The Senate reduced money distribution to a 12-year plan rather than the governor’s proposed 26-year plan, Ogg said.

Republican lawmakers are hoping that the Supreme Court will ask that more settlement cash be used for school funding, he said.

"But that’s not an answer," he added, calling it a stop-gap move.

Legislators should look for a permanent fix to unequal school funding, not rely on tobacco settlement cash that will change each year or might not provide adequate funds, Ogg said.

"One thing I would like to see Columbus do is get it out of their minds that they can’t spare any more than $300 million for school construction," he said. "They argue constantly that the construction trade can’t handle more, but I know we could build double the number of schools here in southern Ohio."