COLUMBUS - A modest increase in state aid to public schools over the next two years will force many districts to put tax levies on the ballot and lower spending, education groups said yesterday.
“If the funding system was unconstitutional in the last [Ohio] Supreme Court decision, it is worse now,” said John Brandt, executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association.
But some Republican legislators said educators should be pleased that the legislature didn't cut funding for primary and secondary education, as in past recessions.
“The end of the world would be the way things used to be in a downturn, when the state actually reduced spending for K-12,” said state Sen. Ron Amstutz (R., Wooster).
Early yesterday, the House and the Senate passed the final version of the state's two-year, $49 billion operating budget.
The spending plan, which awaits Gov. Bob Taft's signature by July 1, calls for spending $7.15 billion on schools for 2003-2004 - a 2.3 percent increase over this year.
Public schools in Ohio are funded with a blend of state and local dollars.
State aid to the 612 districts will increase by 3.3 percent from this year to 2003-2004. The increase would be 2.2 percent from 2003-2004 to 2004 to 2005.
On May 16, the Supreme Court released a decision that ended the 12-year lawsuit over how public schools are funded.
But the 5-2 decision said the legislature must craft a new school-funding system that complies with the state Constitution.
Previous high court decisions had said the system was unconstitutional because it relies too heavily on property taxes, thus creating inequities between property-rich and poor districts.
In 2001 the legislature overhauled the funding system by developing a figure of what an “adequate” education would cost, but the budget adopted early yesterday falls about $150 million short of that figure over the next two years, said Barbara Shaner, a lobbyist with the Ohio Association of School Business Officials.
Toledo Public Schools would get a 3.2 percent increase in state aid next school year, and 2.9 percent in 2004-2005, from $186.7 million to $192.1 million.
“We're in a period where we just eliminated 300 jobs and we're going to be facing tight budgets for the next two years, but we don't know whether we will have to make more cuts,” said Peter Silverman, president of the Toledo school board.
In Fulton County, Swanton Local Schools has a 1 percent income tax for operating funds on the August ballot. In May, voters defeated a 5.5-mill property tax levy. State aid will remain flat next school year, then dip 5 percent in 2004-05.
Mr. McQuade said the district has lowered spending by $500,000 next school year, including not replacing five teachers who have retired, and laying off two employees. If voters approve an income tax, the district has said it will allow a 6.96-mill property tax to expire next year.