By Tom Birdwell, School Board President
Thank you to all who attended today's school funding forum (Sunday, April 13, 2008) with state Representative Coley, and state Senator Cates. We had a small turnout. There were no surprises, but here is a recap...
Photo: Senator Cates
Senator Cates gave an overview of the state budget process, and the funding
available. As I have previously pointed out, there just is no available funding
and thus we simply can't expect the state to come to our rescue. Currently, over
81% of the state's total budget is committed to just three programs, education,
medicaid, and public safety, i.e. law enforcement and prisons. None of these
three can be easily reduced. That leaves just 19% for all other state needs
combined, so there is no real way for the state to reallocate significantly more
funding to schools.
Senator Cates explained that House Bill 920, which
rolls back property tax rates and destabilizes long term school funding today is
not just in our state's laws, but that significant parts of it have been added
to our state's constitution. This means the Legislature and Governor alone can't
change this issue, and instead that doing so would require voter approval of a
change to our constitution. I don't know which aspects of HB920 are bound by
law, and which are now constitutional, but will try go get a full picture of
this and get back to you.
Both Senator Cates and Representative Coley
agreed that the state's school funding formula, how the money is distributed, is
a disaster. Comparing it to the federal IRS laws, Senator Cates described that
the system is grossly over-complicated, and designed to benefit ever shrinking
major urban schools over smaller but growing suburban ones. State money simply
does not follow student migration as our kids leave urban centers and go to
smaller suburban districts like ours. Representative Coley described how it will
be very difficult, if not impossible to redistribute today's education state
funding, as our state's urban schools benefit greatly from the current method,
and they control enough seats in the house and senate to block major changes.
Further, he didn't say so, but I believe it will be extremely difficult to get a
Democrat governor to fight to change today's distribution method, since the
greatest benefactors of today's system are our large urban districts, which are
all Democrat strongholds. Making major cuts there would cause a huge political
problem for a Democrat Governor.
Again, both Senator Cates and
Representative Coley agreed that the present funding formula's "phantom revenue"
calculations need improvement. For those not familiar with it, this is the root
cause of why our school districts use "temporary" emergency levys to fund
permanent long term needs. Let me describe. Our permanent operations funding in
Monroe is twenty mills. On top of that we have four five-year emergency levys.
The need for these four temporary issues is permanent, but if we replace them
with permanent levys, we will lose about $900,000 per year in current state
income, and would have to add three additional mills of local taxes just to
break even. The use of emergency levys in this fashion definitely helps local
taxpayers save money, but it causes levy renewal after levy renewal. For
example, Monroe must pass four emergency levy renewals in the next four years.
If the state's funding formula supported our putting permanent levys in place,
we could do so, and then focus on education instead of annual fiscal survival.
Discuss: Ohio School Funding Forum on The Voice