State leaders continue to negotiate a plan for funding Ohio's public schools. The government has until June 15th to come up with a funding proposal that will satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate to provide an adequate education to all school children. The latest in a string of proposals was unveiled last week in Columbus. Some say that, just as others before it, this plan leaves unanswered questions -- like how to pay for it and will more money solve the problem. 90.3's Tarice Sims reports.
Tarice Sims- So far the Governor, the House and Senate have all introduced plans to comply with the Supreme Courts ruling and make the school funding process constitutional. The latest school funding plan is a compromise by Governor Bob Taft, House Speaker Larry Householder and Senate President Richard Finan. The proposal would increase the base cost per student by over $600 to $4,814 next year and $4,949 in 2003. This compromise is less than the House plan's proposed increase to $5,409 for next year, but more than both Senate Bill 2 and the Governor's estimated base costs. State Senator Eric Fingerhut, a Democrat from Cleveland, says his concern is instead of pooling existing school revenue, budget cuts in other areas of state funding will provide the extra money to give schools.
Eric Fingerhut- In order to do that they're cutting things like higher education, and technology investments and research and development and mental health, healthcare, and aging programs and nursing homes. And so you see what we're doing here in order to avoid creating an equitable system of school funding, we're decimating every other vital function of government and undermining the future of Ohio's economic growth to find money to put into the districts to balance off what is available in the higher wealth districts.
TS- The compromise school funding plan would dip into 1 of 2 State government rainy day funds, delay tax breaks possibly effecting those related to college tuition and slash spending on human services. Which wouldn't necessarily mean money would be deducted, but they would not receive an increase in the state funds either.
Senator Fingerhut says the Supreme Court decision on school funding was not meant to spend more money on education, but rather pool the money already coming from wealthier districts. State representative Ron Young, a republican from Leroy, Ohio, says he doesn't think taxpayers will go for that.
Ron Young- I think that wealth can be shared without necessarily automatically pooling money. In fact if you look at the compromise plan some of the wealthier districts are the ones actually funding the poorer districts.
TS- As it stands property taxes support their own local districts, so the wealthier districts have more money to educate their students. But that leaves a large disparity. For example, according to Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo's office Shaker Heights schools, which have been hailed as one of the top districts is projected to receive over $51 million in property taxes for 2000-2001. On the other hand, East Cleveland schools, which have struggled with academic performance, is projected to receive a little less than $13 million in property taxes.
Rosemary Herpel is Executive Director of the Cleveland Initative for Education non-profit advocacy group. She says even if you try to pool funds the needs of school districts are so varied that it still may not be enough.
Rosemary Herpel- There can never be equal distribution, because the needs in an urban district and a rural district are different and more complex than the needs in a suburb or in a more affluent community.
TS- But some education advocates say throwing money at the problem won't fix it. Joshua Hall is director of education policy for the Buckeye Institute, a think tank that studies statewide policy issues. He says the government needs to concentrate on curriculum instead of how and where to get more money for schools.
Joshua Hall- I don't think that any reading of what the academic research says would lead one to conclude that increases, just general increase in school spending is likely to have any effect on student learning.
TS- Although the compromise plan does increase money, the question legislators will have to consider when the bill comes before them is how they will pay for it. Legislators will also have to consider if the school funding increase will have to come at someone else's expense. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN.