By Susan Tebben and Ohio Capital Journal

In 1991, Sheridan High School freshman Nathan DeRolph thought Ohio’s education funding formula would change before he entered college.

He and his parents had filed a lawsuit against the state that would eventually make it to the Ohio Supreme Court, fighting against the overreliance on property taxes built into public school funding.

“I kind of naively, I think, thought by the time I’m a senior in high school, this will all be wrapped up and hopefully there will be a new funding plan in place, and generations after me won’t have to deal with the same challenges,” DeRolph said.

Three decades later, he just watched his daughter graduate from high school, under the same funding system his family fought against, through multiple supreme court decisions.

The Ohio legislature still has not overhauled the system, as ordered by the state’s high court decisions.

“Over 30 years, that’s 3 million kids that have been through a broken system, and we can’t afford to have another 30 years of the same broken system,” DeRolph said.

He and his father, Dale, told a virtual forum hosted by the League of Women Voter’s and the Children’s Defense Fund Ohio that they see hope in the new push to include a funding formula overhaul in the latest biennial budget.

The overhaul being considered for the new budget was already set up after years of work by now-Speaker Bob Cupp and former state Rep. John Patterson.

The overhaul, which started this year as a separate piece of legislation carried over from the last General Assembly, would lessen the weight of property taxes on the funding formula, basing 40% of the formula’s funding on the income levels of the district.

In the previous budget, the present school formula only took on a small part of district funding, as 82% of Ohio’s districts weren’t a part of the formula found to be unconstitutional.

“What that means is districts were either not getting enough money that the formula says they should have gotten, or they’re getting more money than the formula says they should receive,” said Tom Hosler, superintendent of Perrysburg Schools, and a member of a workgroup that has spent years searching for a solution to the education system.

Hosler said the $6,020 per student that is the current base cost — the most basic amount it takes to educate a child — is a result of “patchworking” and “fixing things on the fly” rather than a comprehensive dissection of Ohio districts.

“Why $6,020? We don’t know,” Hosler said. “We don’t know how it got there and we…have no idea how those dollars are to be spent or allocated, or how they came to us. It’s just the number.”

The need for a new funding model also comes from continually increasing education costs, and the inability for the current education model in the state to keep up, according to Steve Dyer, director of government relations for the Ohio Education Association.

That includes the ratio of local to state share of education within the funding model.

“2020 was the highest local share of education costs we’ve had since 1985,” Dyer said during the forum.

Comparing the amount of non-human services budget being allocated for primary and secondary education, data cited by Dyer showed the state is committing 6% less than was distributed in 1975.

When it comes to privatization of education, or the inclusion of private schools and charter schools in the public school funding via the EdChoice voucher program, Dyer said districts get about $1.6 billion less than they did before the voucher programs were paid for through district budgets.

That $1.6 billion matches up with the increase in property taxes the state has seen since 2003, when the Ohio Supreme Court issued its final ruling on the DeRolph.

“It’s not rocket science,” Dyer said. “If the state isn’t picking it up, local taxpayers are, or our kids are suffering with fewer resources or fewer opportunities.”

The state budget is currently being considered by the Ohio Senate, and a final version is due by July.

Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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