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Published: Wednesday, 5/9/2001

Tinkering with school aid

At the risk of being accused of fomenting “class warfare,” we'll ask the question anyhow: Can any school-funding formula be considered equitable when it would give Ottawa Hills schools a 58.6 percent increase in state aid next year while providing Toledo Public Schools only 6.7 percent more?

That's what will happen if the school-funding formula under consideration in the Ohio General Assembly is finally adopted - and that's still a big if. Ottawa Hills would get about $600 more for each of its 1,000 or so students during the next fiscal year while Toledo, with enrollment of nearly 37,000, would get half as much: about $300.

Ordered by the Ohio Supreme Court to come up with a formula that relies less on local property taxes and better equalizes funding between property rich and poor districts, majority Republicans have done no such thing with the school-aid package they are trying to ram through the General Assembly.

Overall, the formula would provide an additional $1.4 billion for public schools over the next two years, without a tax increase. Virtually all districts would get more money each year. That's good news.

But lawmakers have simply chosen to dump more money on the schools while merely tinkering with the formula here and there. For example, the disproportionate allotments for Ottawa Hills and Toledo come from a provision to eliminate a cap on annual increases the state has been giving to districts with rising enrollment and large property tax bases.

The Republican majority also would tweak the cost-of-doing-business factor in the formula, capping the extra allotments city districts like Toledo get because they operate in relatively high-cost areas. GOP lawmakers, who represent suburban and rural areas, seem to think urban districts have been getting too much money, leading Democrats to complain that the Republicans are stacking the formula against city schools.

Unfortunately, the school-funding formula is so complex that such a shift might not be apparent until a few years down the road.

The Taft administration and the legislature seem to be banking on a change of heart among the four-member court majority that issued the order originally and has set a June 15 deadline for the state to comply.

We still maintain that the court's Gang of Four erred in throwing out the school funding mechanism in the first place. But counting on a justice to change his mind doesn't inspire confidence that this will all end soon.



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