State Journal

Ohio Forces Spar Over Constitution

‘High-quality education’ sought via amendment.

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Despite four separate rulings from the Ohio Supreme Court declaring the state’s school finance system unconstitutional, little has changed—and fed-up education advocates are determined to do something about that.

A coalition of 12 Ohio public school groups is moving to take the issue to voters by placing a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would guarantee students a “high-quality public education.”

James E. Betts, a spokesman for the coalition, called Getting It Right for Ohio’s Future, said parents and students no longer can wait for lawmakers to act.

“The General Assembly has certainly made some changes, but they haven’t provided a systematic overhaul the court required,” Mr. Betts said.

The first ruling came in 1997 in response to a school funding lawsuit filed six years earlier. The state’s high court found that Ohio’s system of paying for its schools was unconstitutional because it relied too much on property taxes, forced some districts to borrow money for basic operations, and didn’t provide enough money for facilities, according to the National Access Network, a New York City-based organization that tracks such litigation.

In 2003, the court gave up jurisdiction of the case, thus ending the legal battle.

The proposed amendment would establish the right to a high-quality education and charge the 19-member state board of education with determining—subject to a legislative override—how much such an education system would cost.

Supporters submitted their initial petition for the amendment to the Ohio attorney general on Jan. 17. But they will need 400,000 signatures before the question can appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Opponents are already lining up.

Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who took office this month, isn’t inclined to support it, said his spokesman, Keith Dailey. The governor will work on a legislative solution.

And the Ohio Roundtable, a public-policy organization, isn’t impressed—or especially diplomatic in its assessment. It already calls the proposed amendment a “power grab” that would put school funding in the hands of an “educational bureaucracy” rather than the elected legislature.

Vol. 26, Issue 21, Page 19

Published in Print: January 31, 2007, as Ohio Forces Spar Over Constitution

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