High court won#039;t hear funding case

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 21, 2003

From wire and staff reports

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear school districts' appeal of Ohio's long-running lawsuit over the funding of schools, quietly ending a legal fight that led the state to spend billions of extra dollars on schools over the past decade.

The court on Monday without comment denied a request by the Coalition for Equity & Adequacy in School Funding to file a federal appeal of the lawsuit filed in 1991.

Email newsletter signup

The coalition's leader called the decision devastating and promised to keep the funding issue alive in the state courts.

''Today's decision cannot mark the end of the fight for justice for Ohio's schoolchildren,'' said William Phillis, the coalition's executive director.

Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, said the decision ends the 12-year-old case but said Ohio's school-funding system needs to be improved. A committee he created to examine the system is expected to recommend changes next year.

In May, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 5-2 to end the case, ordered state officials to fix the system, but then gave up jurisdiction in the case and blocked any further action in the state court system.

The coalition of about 500 schools wanted the U.S. Supreme Court to order the state Supreme Court to reopen the case so that Taft and lawmakers could be forced to comply with the state court's previous rulings to fix the funding system.

Symmes Valley Superintendent Tom Ben said he was not aware of the Supreme Court's decision until he was told about it by a Tribune reporter.

"This will be a setback. To what degree, I don't know yet," Ben said. "(The Coalition for Funding Equity and Adequacy) has made a tremendous impact on funding for schools in the last 12 years. I'm sure, though, that the coalition will regroup and determine what direction it needs to go in in the future."

Ben said the efforts of the coalition has resulted in more state money for improvement in districts such as his, improvements in school facilities, more money for supplies and professional development and other things that have led to better test scores and improved learning.

"Funding has to continue to flow, otherwise, this could have an effect on education," he said. "A lot of what has been accomplished is a direct result of the (coalition's) efforts."

The state court had ruled three times in five years that the state's educational system was unconstitutional because it created disparities between rich and poor districts.

The lack of a means to enforce those rulings, rather than specifics about Ohio's funding system, was the main issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

As an example of how the school-funding fight affected districts, Eastern Local Schools in Meigs County in southeast Ohio spent $7,003 on each student last year and raised just 16.3 percent of the money from local residents.

By contrast, Bay Village in suburban Cleveland spent $9,622 on each student and raised 69 percent of the money from residents.

During the last two-year budget, Taft and lawmakers included an additional $1.4 billion in spending on education because of the court's rulings.