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Ohio School Funding Quiz
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True-false quiz on Ohio school funding
 
Are the following statements True or False? (answers follow) 

1. Every year the Ohio Department of Education determines the basic cost of educating a child at the elementary, middle, and high school level, adjusts for cost disparities in the regional economies of the state, and then defines adequacy by naming a foundation amount for each child based on cost of services.

2. The amount of tax money available to a school district depends a lot on how fast housing values in that district are increasing.

3. The school districts with the highest voted tax mills have the most money to pay for their schools.

4. School districts with a large amount of taxable property per pupil in Ohio are usually those with factories or freeway interchanges surrounded by hotels, malls, and office buildings.

5. While we know that school districts have significant differences in their local property taxes, state aid makes up the difference to bring most districts to a level of parity.

6. There are flaws in the funding distribution formula that mis-measure the revenue local school districts are able to generate and therefore mistakenly reduce state aid.

7. School facilities in Ohio are worn out because districts have not carefully managed resources when it comes to their buildings.

8. There are hundreds of dollars worth of unfunded state mandates that local school districts have to implement and pay for entirely through local taxes.

9. Taxation will always be the primary way to fund public schools.

10. School district budgets are neither flexible nor easy to modify because approximately 85% of school district budgets statewide are locked into salaries and costs for personnel.

11. Big city school districts have special costs related to concentrated poverty among families. This situation is the result of middle class decisions to move away from the city into more insulated suburbs.

12. School districts seem to be on the ballot all the time in Ohio. This is because school districts are inefficient. It would be relatively easy for many school districts to do more with less.

13. For many years school districts unable to pass their tax levies have been forced by state law to borrow money to stay open. Once such a district is finally able to pass a levy, much of the revenue from the levy must be spent to pay for the interest and repayment on the loan.

14. The Ohio Lottery provides a major source of funding for Ohio's public schools.

Answers

1. Every year the Ohio Department of Education determines the basic cost of educating a child at the elementary, middle, and high school level, adjusts for cost disparities in the regional economies of the state, and then defines adequacy by naming a foundation amount for each child based on cost of services.

False During the biennial budget process, legislators allocate funds for the various functions of government without considering what it actually costs to educate our children. In the 1999-2000 school year, the amount set by the legislature to be spent on each child (the foundation amount) was $472 less than the amount spent by the lowest spending district in Ohio. While the foundation amount was $4,063 for the 1999-2000 school year, the average expenditure for all Ohio districts was $6,223. All surrounding states averaged more spending per pupil in 1999: Michigan$7,488; Pennsylvania$7152; West Virginia$6,887; Indiana$6,643. It is important to realize that when the state sets the foundation amount that should be spent as the bare minimum for every child, its calculation includes not only the state's contribution but also what the state says is a fair local contribution. The state's contribution is less than the foundation amount.

2. The amount of tax money available to a school district depends a lot on how fast housing values in that district are increasing.

False Ohio has a tax freeze that resembles Proposition 13 in California and Measure 5 in Oregon. Ohio House Bill 920 freezes the revenue collected from any voted levy at the amount generated the day the levy passes. This tax freeze means that school districts do not receive added revenue when property values go up. If a house grows in value, taxes are rolled back through the tax reduction factor of HB 920. This mechanism keeps taxes down over time but also makes it hard for school districts to keep up with inflation. Passage of a school levy will help a district keep up with inflation, but it usually won't generate any new revenue in actual inflation-adjusted dollars.

3. The school districts with the highest voted tax mills have the most money to pay for their schools.

False School taxes are calculated by multiplying mills (a mill is one tenth of a cent) times the value of property. Frequently a district will vote a high number of mills in order to compensate for relatively low property values. For example, the East Cleveland school district has tried to compensate for having the 13th lowest tax base in Ohio by voting the 6th highest number of tax mills.

4. School districts with a large amount of taxable property per pupil in Ohio are usually those with factories or freeway interchanges surrounded by hotels, malls, and office buildings.

True School district wealth is virtually always created by the presence of a large amount of commercial or industrial property. If there is a nuclear power plant, a steel mill, an automobile plant, or a belt-freeway interchange, the school district will have a high tax base. A school district with a lot of big houses but without industry or commerce may still have a tough time with school funding, because residential property is less valuable than commerce and industry. The capacity of residential property to generate revenue is also curtailed by the tax freeze law.

5. While we know that school districts have significant differences in their local property taxes, state aid makes up the difference to bring most districts to a level of parity.

False School funding in Ohio is inequitable because the state has not compensated for variation in local property taxes. This means that children in different locations across the state do not have access to the same educational opportunities. The range in the amount of taxable-property-per-pupil among Ohio school districts is from $13,688 to $604,835. It is clear that the state has not been able to compensate for this situation when one looks at disparities in spending across the 611 school districts; in 1998 expenditure-per-pupil ranged from $4,524 to $12,535. Of the total amount spent on primary and secondary education, state taxes provide only 43.4%, the federal government spends 5.6%, and local school districts make up more than half, 51%.

6. There are flaws in the state funding distribution formula that mis-measure the revenue local school districts are able to generate and therefore mistakenly reduce state aid.

True There are many problems with the state funding distribution formula. Some problems arise because the formula does not take into account the effects on local revenue of HB 920, the tax freeze law. These flaws make it appear that local school districts have been able to raise local money which in fact does not exist. Many of these flaws in the formula have the unintended consequence of shifting the burden of taxation from the state to local school districts.

7. School facilities in Ohio are worn out because districts have not carefully managed resources when it comes to their buildings.

False The U.S. General Accounting Office in 1996 rated Ohio's school facilities the worst in all the 50 states. Recently the Supreme Court acknowledged that the school-facilities problem is even more grave than the Legislature has acknowledged. Unfortunately, the Court merely suggests further legislative action but fails to mandate additional financial investment. The burden for facilities repair and replacement will continue to rest on the local match each school district must secure in order to access state funds. And the time line is so long that a whole generation of children will grow up in old, or run-down buildings.

8. There are hundreds of dollars worth of unfunded state mandates that local school districts have to implement and pay for entirely through local taxes.

True As part of its DeRolph II Decision over a year ago, the Supreme Court ordered the Legislature immediately to address and fund mandates imposed on local school districts by the state. In her dissent in DeRolph III, Justice Alice Robie Resnick writes: "Despite the state's arguments to the contrary, many unfunded mandates, both new and old, still exist.... A Legislative Service Commission staff member in the Legislative Budget Office estimated that unfunded mandates totaling $515 million per year were imposed by the General Assembly in 1997....The state's failure to address the contents of this report...raises serious questions about the state's commitment to funding these mandates."

9. Taxation will always be the primary way to fund public schools.

True One cannot hold a bake sale to fund a statewide endeavor that serves 1.8 million children and now costs approximately $14 billion in combined local, state, and federal funds. Education across the United States is among the primary commitments of government, as on any weekday at 11:00 AM, approximately one fifth of the population are students in K-12 public schools. The major types of taxes available for school funding are: property tax, income tax, sales tax, and sin or excise taxes. Ohio uses all these forms of taxes already. There isn't an under-utilized revenue source that would make an easy substitute for our current over-reliance on property taxes. If we imagine school funding as a pie chart, we find there are only a couple of choices for school funding reform: (1) increase the size of the pie and perhaps re-cut the pieces or (2) keep the pie the same and re-cut the pieces.

10. School district budgets are neither flexible nor easy to modify because approximately 85% of school district budgets statewide are locked into salaries and costs for personnel.

True When a school district budget is reduced, it usually means that programs for children are eliminated. When budgets are reduced, staff are laid off, which means that the services those people offer are scaled back. When librarians are eliminated, library services are reduced. When counselors are cut, students receive less guidance about college preparation, careers, or personal issues. When teachers are cut, class sizes inevitably increase.

11. Big city school districts have special costs related to concentrated poverty among families. This situation is the result of middle class decisions to move away from the city into more insulated suburbs.

True In schools where the majority of students and families are experiencing extreme poverty, there is a need for additional financial support which would translate into additional staff support. Research conclusively shows that small class size is far more important for students in high poverty schools. The Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy has written that, "Education is the equalizer in our society. Equality is not achieved by restricting the fastest, but by assuring the less advantaged a comparable opportunity. Comparable in this matter does not mean identical." This is an ethical challenge that should speak to us as people of faith: Will we do for other people's children as we would have them do for our children?

12. School districts seem to be on the ballot all the time in Ohio. This is because school districts are inefficient. It would be relatively easy for many school districts to do more with less.

False School districts are on the ballot all the time in Ohio but not because of inefficiency. A recent study by Cleveland State University's Urban Center documents that in the final quarter of the 20th century, Ohio school districts put 11,703 school levies on the ballot, an average of 468 per year. Only 47% of these levies passed. Local school districts must place levies on the ballot because Ohio has a property tax freeze, House Bill 920, embedded into the Constitution in 1980. This law freezes the revenue collected from any voted levy at the amount generated the day the levy passes. This tax freeze means that school districts do not receive added revenue when property values go up. If a house grows in value, taxes are rolled back through the tax reduction factor of HB 920. This mechanism keeps taxes down over time but it has also created a climate of long-term financial shortage. Opponents of public education have tried to define the problem as one of mis-management and inefficiency; instead we have an unworkable funding system.

13. For many years school districts unable to pass their tax levies have been forced by state law to borrow money to stay open. Once such a district is finally able to pass a levy, much of the revenue from the levy must be spent to pay for the interest and repayment on the loan.

True Despite the ten year court case, school districts will still have to borrow money to stay open during periods of financial crisis when levies fail. This is because in Ohio's system, the burden for school funding rests on financially strapped local districts. The children suffer as a result of the state's failure to assume a greater share of school finance in Ohio.

14. The Ohio Lottery provides a major source of funding for Ohio's public schools.

False Money from the lottery is allocated to education; however it merely replaces general fund money which is then spent for other purposes. The lottery provides no additional funding for public schools.

Janice W. Resseger
Minister for Public Education and Witness
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115
216-736-3711
Mail ressegerj@ucc.org

Westerville Voters On Target for Education