Law & Courts

Ohio Court Rejects State School Aid System

By Mary Ann Zehr — January 08, 2003 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It’s back to the drawing board for Ohio leaders, following the recent ruling by the state supreme court that the school aid system violates the state constitution and must be overhauled.

In its fourth and final ruling in the case, the court left it to Gov. Bob Taft and state legislators to find a resolution to the 11-year-old school finance lawsuit, called DeRolph v. State of Ohio.

It provided no deadline or enforcement mechanism, however.

In the 4-3 decision last month, the Ohio Supreme Court stated that the legislature hadn’t met the directive of the court’s first ruling, issued in 1997, to provide a “complete systematic overhaul” of the school funding system. The court said that the legislature must address the directives of the first two court rulings. The court reiterated its position that an overhaul of the system is needed, “not further nibbling at the edges.”

The ruling puts an end to the possibility that a change in the make up of the court as a result of the Nov. 5 elections would have an impact on the lawsuit’s outcome. The court made the ruling before the term for the new court began.

The decision, though, leaves the future of school funding in the Buckeye State far from certain: From the perspective of a coalition representing the plaintiffs, the final ruling is clear on how legislators should proceed, but from the state’s point of view, it is not. Some analysts even suggest that the legislature will make no changes.

Outgoing state Attorney General Betty Montgomery, who had defended the current system of funding as constitutional, characterized the Dec. 11 ruling as “somewhat less than clear.”

“While some members [of the court] appear to suggest a complete overhaul of the system is in order, others seem to feel that only minor modifications would be necessary to remedy Ohio’s school funding system,” she said in a statement.

‘A Blindfold On’

“It’s a confusing ruling,” agreed Mary Anne Sharkey, the communications director for Gov. Taft, a Republican. “The court dismissed the case. ... But they still found the system to be unconstitutional.”

Ms. Sharkey said that the governor believes he and the legislature have already addressed the problems pointed out in the first two rulings by increasing school funding, but that Mr. Taft also realizes more will have to be done. If the legislature does nothing to respond to the latest decision, she said, the state will likely face subsequent lawsuits.

“To say there isn’t any direction there [in the decision] is to put a blindfold on,” argued William L. Phillis, the executive director of the plaintiffs’ coalition, in response to contentions that the ruling wasn’t clear. He said that the high court’s first two rulings, which the final ruling said stand as law, gave plenty of direction for problems that the state needs to address.

For example, he said, the 1997 decision says that the state depends too much on local property taxes to pay for schooling, and that the formula for schools’ per-pupil funding isn’t related to the cost of an adequate education.

Mr. Phillis said his coalition of more than 550 school districts, called the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy in School Funding, hadn’t yet decided what it would do if the legislature failed to respond adequately to the court’s order.

“The bottom line is,” he said, “we don’t plan to go away.”

Falling Revenues

One challenge for legislators is finding a way to change the school funding system at the same time that Ohio faces financial problems. Most people, after all, agree that changing the system will require more money.

Michael C. Shoemaker, a Democrat who served in the legislature for 20 years and lost his Senate race in November, blames the Republican-dominated legislature for promising voters not to raise taxes, thus leaving no means to raise more money for schooling.

“They ran on a platform of banning new taxes,” said the former senator of Republicans. “Now they’ve painted themselves into a very small corner with this no-tax rhetoric. It’s time they tell the public, ‘We lied to you.’”

But Richard H. Finan, a Republican who was the president of the Senate until he retired last month, said that through increasing spending for schooling and other means, legislators have already addressed the issues raised by the lawsuit, and that the supreme court is wrong.

He suggested that one solution to handling the court’s order to fix the system would be to amend the Ohio Constitution to remove from the court its authority in the matter.

“The Ohio legislature should be allowed to determine what is ‘thorough and efficient’ [as worded in the state constitution] for schools,” he argued.

One of the justices, Alice Robie Resnick, who concurred with the court’s final ruling, also suggested that the state constitution should be changed to resolve the matter.

In her written opinion, Justice Resnick said that the constitution needed to be altered so that the legislature would be forced to fix the current funding system. She suggested that the constitution be changed to include a specific dollar amount that the state would be required to spend per pupil and a formula for arriving at that number that would ensure sufficient aid for schools year after year.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Title IX Rule to Protect LGBTQ+ Students Temporarily Blocked in 4 States
A federal judge in Louisiana delivered the first legal blow to the Biden administration's interpretation of Title IX.
4 min read
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and healthcare stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. Republican states are filing a barrage of legal challenges against the Biden administration's newly expanded campus sexual assault rules, saying they overstep the president's authority and undermine the Title IX anti-discrimination law.
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and health care stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. Republican states have filed a barrage of legal challenges against the Biden administration's new Title IX rule, and one of them has just resulted in a temporary order blocking the rule in four states.
Patrick Orsagos/AP
Law & Courts Judge Strikes Down Title IX Guidance on LGBTQ+ Students. Here's Why It Matters
In a June 11 ruling, Texas judge said the Education Department has no authority to expand protections under Title IX.
8 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas on June 22, 2017.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas on June 22, 2017. His office sued the Biden administration in an attempt to invalidate guidance it released in June 2021 stating it would interpret Title IX to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Tony Gutierrez/AP
Law & Courts Court Backs School That Barred Student's 'Two Genders' Shirt
The court said the shirt could be understood to demean transgender and gender-nonconforming students, and administrators could prohibit it.
5 min read
ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman, left, and Liam Morrison speak at a press conference following oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit on Feb. 8, 2024.
David Cortman, senior counsel and vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom, left, and middle school student Liam Morrison speak to reporters following oral arguments over Morrison's "There Are Only Two Genders" T-shirt before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston on Feb. 8, 2024.
Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom
Law & Courts Federal Judge Overturns New Hampshire Law on Teaching 'Divisive Concepts'
The judge holds that the law is unconstitutionally vague because it does not make clear to educators what topics they may not teach.
4 min read
Students walk into the front doors at Hinsdale Middle High School, in Hinsdale, N.H., on the first day of school on Aug. 30, 2022.
Students walk into Hinsdale Middle High School, in Hinsdale, N.H., in August 2022. A federal judge has struck down a New Hampshire law that bars the teaching of "divisive concepts" to K-12 students.
Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP