A complaint challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s school funding system was filed in the Perry County Court of Common Pleas in 1991. The plaintiffs alleged that vast disparities and shortfalls in per pupil funding, among other concerns, meant the State of Ohio was failing in its Constitutional obligation to ensure that there is a “thorough and efficient system” of public schools throughout the state. In his 1994 decision in the DeRolph case, Judge Lewis agreed.
Over the course of the next decade there were several more court rulings, including several rulings by the Ohio Supreme Court finding the system to be unconstitutional. While some changes in funding occurred during that time, including the creation of the Ohio School Facilities Commission (now Ohio Facilities Construction Commission) and the funding of billions of dollars of new and renovated school facilities, the underlying per pupil funding system remains largely unchanged.
Over the course of the past year Representative Bob Cupp and John Patterson convened workgroups of stakeholders throughout the state and developed a new school funding plan. This plan was introduced as House Bill 305 in the Ohio House on June 26, 2019. The bill was referred to the Finance Committee and hearings have taken place over the past two months with testimony from legislators and educators from across the state.
Recently, stakeholders and legislators have raised concerns about whether HB 305 does enough to address and fund the needs of impoverished students. Witnesses testified before the Finance Committee citing several studies showing that the cost of educating an impoverished child is about 30% higher than non-disadvantaged students. This indicated that additional funding ranging from $85 million to $350 million may be required on top of the current estimate of $1.5 billion per year of increased funding under HB 305.
Following that testimony, House Speaker Larry Householder stated that “we need to do something about those economically disadvantaged students. Maybe we need to find a new way, that I don’t know what it is yet, of funding our schools.” Speaker Householder raised the possibility of imposing a uniform tax “effort” across the state, meaning a comparable property tax rate in all districts, and pooling the funding at a state level for redistribution based on need. He offered this as a way to address inequities arising from widely varying per pupil property tax valuation across the state. Speaker Householder also raised the possibility of putting a new funding plan before Ohio’s voters next year.
Because HB 305 already has bipartisan and majority sponsorship in the House, many see this as the most viable proposal to alter school funding since DeRolph was filed. Now is the time for interested parties to provide input and raise concerns with their legislators. Any Ennis Britton attorney can discuss HB 305 and its implications with interested parties. Hollie Reedy, an attorney in our Columbus office, is a registered lobbyist and can provide support for representatives of client districts and entities that may wish to provide testimony on HB 305. Legislators should hear your district’s story; bringing the real numbers and local challenges in your district helps them understand how the complicated formula and system is (or is not) working for you.