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Published: Saturday, 12/9/2000

Group asks court to press legislature on school funding


COLUMBUS - It's unclear when, or if, the Ohio Supreme Court will respond to a request to put the legislature on a short leash in the battle over how to fund public schools.

Yesterday, the coalition of school districts that sued the state in 1991 to challenge the school-funding system filed a motion asking the high court to take two steps:

w Order the legislature to approve state funds to pay the costs of “unfunded mandates” from two 1997 state laws designed to make schools more accountable for how they educate children and spend tax dollars. The amount would be determined by asking each district.

w Require the legislature to file a plan on how it will meet the June 15 deadline to craft a school-funding system that complies with the Ohio Constitution. The legislature then would have to file monthly progress reports.

“It's obvious to the coalition that the state defendants will never fix the school-funding problem without additional direction from the Supreme Court,” said Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding.

The state has 10 days to respond to the motion.

Attorney General Betty Montgomery believes the motion is “premature at best,” an aide said.

Governor Taft said the motion is “unproductive,” said spokeswoman Denise Lee.

“The governor and lawmakers are still in the process of putting together a response to the Supreme Court decision,” she said.

Yesterday's motion was filed seven months after the court released a 4-3 decision striking down the school-funding system as unconstitutional, for the second time in three years.

The court ruled that legislators had failed to comply with its 1997 decision that said a new system should rely less on local real-estate taxes, which the court majority said causes inequities among property-rich and poor districts.

One section of the Supreme Court decision ordered the legislature to immediately provide funding so districts can pay for “unfunded mandates.”

Mr. Phillis said the legislature has defied the Supreme Court's May 11 decision by passing a bill that eliminates the requirement that districts have “rainy-day” funds. The bill also lessens spending mandates for building maintenance, textbooks, and other instructional materials.

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