A Legacy of Failed Leadership
legislature and the Governor were under orders from the
Supreme Court to fix the funding system, they tinkered with
a system that everyone agreed was fundamentally broken. As
disappointing as the response to the Supreme Court's order
was, when the Court declared in 2002 that it would no long
enforce its order, things actually got worse.
Since 2002 the legislature has steadily retreated from its
Constitutional responsibility to fund a thorough and
efficient system of schools. As a result, the burden of
paying for schools has been gradually shifted back to local
taxpayers. At the same time costs have escalated -
especially utilities, fuel and health care for its
The response from the current administration, the
Legislature and the State Board of Education has been to
ignore the plight of traditional public schools in favor of
charter schools - a system of privately-operated schools
that persists despite an abysmal academic record.
What We Need
More than anything else, we have suffered under a poverty of
leadership. Ohio's children need a new team of leaders who
will bring together administrators, teachers, parents and
taxpayers from a diverse range of urban, suburban and rural
schools to negotiate a comprehensive reform of our school
This is no easy task - anyone who says he or she has the
answer at hand is not being realistic. The job involves
crafting a new system which ensures fairness for all and
provides necessary aid to poorer districts, but neither
punishes nor unjustly rewards high-wealth districts.
As a member of the Ohio Board of Education, Tom Sawyer will
bring decades of experience in pulling together disparate
groups to work out a common solution. And he will take the
point in advocating for a comprehensive reform proposal in
the Legislature and, if need be, at the ballot box.
Before anyone can responsibly discuss a comprehensive
strategy for school finance reform, he must sit down and
work with the people who would be affected. Tom has worked
with the participants in the school funding reform movement
for years. He knows the issues and how the various groups
and their needs interact. In his work in this issue, Tom has
found broad agreement on some basic principles for funding
Lower Reliance on Local Property Taxes.
One major criticism by the Supreme Court was that the state
funding formula relies too much on local property taxes to
fund schools. This over-reliance on property tax is as the
root of many of the problems with our funding system. It
allows state officials to escape responsibility for funding
schools and amplifies disparities in wealth among
districts. Communities are forced to waste resources on
levy campaigns and endure fractures as levy campaigns pit
neighbor against neighbor. Property taxes are squeezing
people with fixed or limited incomes including the elderly,
the disabled and the working poor.
A Guaranteed, Enforceable Right to Adequate Funding.
The potential pitfall with shifting funding away from local
property taxes is that is puts more power in the hands
legislators who have failed to support schools in the past.
For this reason, any system that increases the state share
of education must also provide some enforceable guarantee of
We can guarantee proper funding by establishing a
fundamental right to quality education, specifying in the
Constitution a procedure for enforcing that right and
setting up an Education Trust Fund to finance our schools.
"Costing Out" a High-Quality Education.
Currently Ohio's state support for education isn't based on
how much we need; it's based on how much the legislature
wants to spend. The Supreme Court harshly criticized this
system, known as "residual funding," but the legislature did
little to fix it. We need a system that first studies the
elements of a quality education and determines what it costs
to provide those elements. Tom proposes that the State
Board of Education play a key role in defining the elements
of a “thorough and efficient system of education,” costing
out its components, and proposing a fairly distributed
education budget for Ohio.
Cap the Local Share and Cut Property Taxes.
With Constitutional guarantees in place, we should be able
to limit what the State charges off as the local share for
education and to cut local property taxes. The system
should allow local districts the discretion to ask their
voters for additional levies for “extras,” but each school
should be able to rely on the state, plus a limited local
share, to pay for the essential elements of a quality