Education Funding

School Aid Is Casualty Of Ohio’s Budget War

By Karla Scoon Reid — March 19, 2003 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A standoff among Ohio’s Republican state leaders has left the state’s schools grappling with a $90 million budget cut.

Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, warned the GOP-controlled legislature in January that, because of declining revenues, Ohio faced a $720 million budget gap in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

To make up the shortfall, he gave the lawmakers an ultimatum: Increase revenue by raising taxes on cigarettes and beer, or deal with a $136 million reduction in state aid to public schools.

Many Republican legislators, some of whom have pledged not to raise taxes, balked. They also disputed the governor’s financial forecast, saying instead that the gap was $651 million.

The legislature passed a budget- reduction bill last month that protected education aid while slashing some $590 million from the state’s $23 billion fiscal 2003 budget.

Gov. Taft, who was elected to a second term in November, scolded lawmakers and then followed through on his threat. First, he vetoed a provision that had barred him from cutting education spending. Next, he cut $100 million from K-12 education, including $90 million in state aid to schools and $10 million in spending for the state department of education.

Another $42.6 million was struck from higher education, drug- and alcohol-treatment services, job- creation programs, and a program for senior citizens. With those changes, he signed the budget-reduction bill March 7.

“I take no pleasure in making these painful budget reductions,” the governor said in a news release. “But the legislature has given me no other option.”

Tax Resistance

With only four months left in the fiscal year, Cleveland’s public schools are facing the steepest cuts in Ohio—$4 million out of the district’s $375 million in state aid.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the 77,000- student district’s chief executive officer, said labor unions were looking for savings, and summer school would likely be scaled back.

“I thought there would be room for compromise,” she said of the budget negotiations. “Cigarettes and beer are far better than chalk and textbooks.”

The GOP may control the governorship and the legislature, but a small group of “ultra-conservative” young Republicans led the push to block the tax increase, said Michael Kline, an associate professor of history at the Zanesville campus of Ohio University. “It’s basically a problem of their own party, which has been fragmented into moderates who understand the bigger picture and narrow-minded conservatives,” he said.

But many Democrats, who were branded “tax-and-spend liberals” during the last election, didn’t back the tax increases, he noted.

Orest Holubec, the governor’s press secretary, disputes charges that Mr. Taft was trying to intimidate the legislature with his grim budget projections. Instead, he said, the governor was simply warning lawmakers and preparing school districts for severe cuts.

Mr. Taft is proposing additional tax increases to raise revenues for the upcoming two-year budget.

“We gave the governor an alternative to cutting schools: to implement [the legislature’s] plan,” countered Dwight Crum, the spokesman for Speaker of the House Larry Householder.

Mr. Crum said most lawmakers believed that April’s tax collections would provide a clearer picture of the budget situation. If the budget shortfall exceeded the legislators’ prediction, then lawmakers could have returned to address the issue, Mr. Crum said.

Before the end of the fiscal year, Ohio school districts may have to weather yet another financial hit.

State lottery profits are below estimates, and the shortfall could affect funding for schools, said J.C. Benton, a spokesman for the education department.

Ohio teachers’ unions are asking for a stable stream of new revenue for education.

Deidra M. Brown, the director of governmental services for the Ohio Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said the cuts take schools in the “wrong direction.”

With cuts in staffing and training, she said, schools will have a harder time meeting higher state and federal standards for teachers and students.

“It’s outrageous and disgraceful that the state is actually cutting funding for education,” added Tom Mooney, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

Litigation Lingers

The fight to protect education aid may be gaining steam.

A group of local school systems is vowing to block Gov. Taft’s cuts in court, while students, teachers, and school board members from another group of districts are planning a protest rally this month in Columbus, the state capital. A legislative override of Gov. Taft’s veto is also possible.

“This appears to be a game of ‘chicken’ between the governor and the legislature, and nobody blinked—so education will suffer,” said J. Kevin Kelley, the president of the school board in Parma City, a 13,500- student district south of Cleveland.

He is leading an effort to ask a local judge for an injunction to halt the education cuts, which will total $600,000 of Parma City’s $23 million in state aid.

Meanwhile, the fiscal feuding has recharged the state’s long-running school funding lawsuit.

The plaintiffs in the case, the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, have asked a Perry County Common Pleas Court judge to hold a compliance hearing to make sure the legislature fixes the school aid formula. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in December, for the fourth time, that the state’s funding formula was unconstitutional. (“Ohio Court Rejects State School Aid System,” Jan. 8, 2003.)

State Attorney General Jim Petro responded to the coalition’s action by filing a complaint with the state supreme court arguing that the local court has no jurisdiction in the suit.

“You have an unconstitutional system that just keeps going without judicial oversight,” said William L. Phillis, the coalition’s executive director. “Where do you get injunctive relief?”

Related Tags:


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.
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
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.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
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.
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education

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

Education Funding In Their Own Words This Superintendent's Tiny, Rural District Got No COVID Aid. Here's Why That Hurts
The aid formula left Long Lake, N.Y., out of the mix. The superintendent worries that could happen for other kinds of aid in the future.
3 min read
Long Lake Superintendent Noelle Short in front of Long Lake Central School in Long Lake, N.Y., on Sept. 1, 2022.
Noelle Short is the superintendent of a single-school district in upstate New York with fewer than 100 students.
Heather Ainsworth for Education Week
Education Funding Grants Aim to Support Alaska Native Students' Education, Well-Being
The U.S. Department of Education is providing more than $35 million for projects in its latest round of funding.
2 min read
The East Anchorage High and Scammon Bay students gather at a home in the Native Village to learn how to comb fur from a musk ox hide using special combs and common forks. The fur can later be spun into yarn.
Students from East Anchorage High School and Scammon Bay, Alaska, gather to learn how to comb fur from a musk ox hide through a federally funded cultural and educational program for Alaska Native students.
Erin Irwin/Education Week
Education Funding District Leaders Plea to Feds: We Need More Time to Spend COVID Aid
Without more flexibility on the 2024 spending deadline, critical programs will be axed, they warn.
5 min read
Image of money and a timer.
Education Funding Biden Administration Outlines How School Districts Should Spend COVID Aid
White House back-to-school checklist encourages school districts to involve parents in spending decisions.
5 min read
Angela Pike watches her fourth grade students at Lakewood Elementary School in Cecilia, Ky., as they use their laptops to participate in an emotional check-in at the start of the school day, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. The rural Kentucky school is one of thousands across the country using the technology to screen students' state of mind and alert teachers to anyone struggling.
Angela Pike watches her 4th-grade students at Lakewood Elementary School in Cecilia, Ky., as they use their laptops on Aug. 11 to participate in an emotional check-in at the start of the school day. The Biden administration recommended that schools use COVID-19 relief funds to support student mental health.
Timothy D. Easley/AP