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Hamilton, Warren County, OH November 7, 2006 Election
Smart Voter

Funding K-12 education

By Edwin Richard "Rick" Smith, III

Candidate for State Senator; District 7

This information is provided by the candidate
Provides a plan to fix school funding so that it is in compliance with the Supreme Court's DeRolph decisions.
"Ohio's elementary and secondary public school financing system violates Section 2, Article VI of the Ohio Constitution, which mandates a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state.

"By our decision today, we send a clear message to lawmakers: the time has come to fix the system. Let there be no misunderstanding. Ohio's public school financing scheme must undergo a complete systematic overhaul. The factors which contribute to the unworkability of the system and which must be eliminated are (1) the operation of the School Foundation Program, (2) the emphasis of Ohio's school funding system on local property tax, (3) the requirement of school district borrowing through the spending reserve and emergency school assistance loan programs, and (4) the lack of sufficient funding in the General Assembly's biennium budget for the construction and maintenance of public school buildings. The funding laws reviewed today are inherently incapable of achieving their constitutional purpose.

--Ohio Supreme Court, DeRolph v. State (1997), 78 Ohio St.3d 193, 677 N.E.2d 733 ("DeRolph I")

This is what the Supreme Court said in 1997. In subsequent rulings the Ohio Supreme Court has acknowledged some progress by the Legislature, but still states that the State's school funding system does not meet Constitutional requirements.

I heard someone sum up the current school funding issue well, "Where you live determines how far you will go." All other things being equal, a child has a much better chance of being a success in Indian Hill or Mason than in Cincinnati or Franklin. Education is society's Great Equalizer. Many school systems are not doing an adequate job in part because of this funding issue. Well-off Cincinnatians respond in one of two ways... by putting their children in private school (then tuition essentially becomes a second property tax), or by moving out. Even excellent school systems (such as Mason), are built on the back of property owners (in Mason 57% of the school budget comes from local sources).

Many educational experts have failed to come to agreement about how to fix the system, so I am not going to insult your intelligence by saying I have the answer. But I can't dodge the issue either - I wouldn't be doing my job as a candidate if I did.

At this point, the only way to get the Legislature's attention is to jail the leaders for Contempt of Court. Because I care deeply about my future colleagues (OK, at this point I really don't care), I offer this initial framework for further discussion. As the campaign progresses and I learn more, I will update this page. As always, if you have ideas about school funding, click on the button above and tell me what they are.

Step I: Determine what it actually costs to do a good job educating a non-special needs child for one year, including all on-going expenses, including building maintenance. Determine what the construction cost per student for a new school should be. The State Legislature, in HB94, set the "base cost" for an adequate education at roughly $5,000 for 2003. Adjust this for each school district based on local costs, such as teacher's salaries and electricity.

Step II - Cap the millage on local property taxes going to schools. This would also serve as a state-mandated minimum. If this amount were 20 mills, then you would pay $2,000 for each $100,000 in taxable property value (usually less than the actual market value of your home). Do not allow local governments to abate the millage for schools for new construction or new businesses. This millage would be fixed, so the taxes generated would be allowed to increase with an increase in property values. This will provide an inflation hedge for school districts.

Step III: Step II will result in uneven funding for schools, because some districts have different property values and different numbers of business residents. Calculate the funding "gap" between what the schools will get from property taxes and the amount calculated in Step I to teach the number of students in that district. Raise State Income and Sales taxes to raise the additional revenues required. Round 1 of State dollars will be to fill the gap for each local district. If a district does not have a gap, it gets no additional funding in Round 1.

Step IV: Round 2 of state education funding will go to meet the extra costs associated with special-needs kids and other student-specific and district-specific needs.

Step V: Ohio State Lottery money is then provided to each district with a new formula - funding will be entirely based on how much the Lottery is played in that district. Currently the profit on the Lottery is 30%, which means that a district should get 30-cents from every $1.00 played in the district. Currently the Ohio State Lottery is the most regressive tax in Ohio - it sucks money out of many poor urban and rural districts and gives it to wealthier suburban districts. If Hamilton County districts got their "fair share", they would be funded with an additional $11.5 million each year. Unfortunately, Warren County should get $4.3 million less on a "fair share" basis. I agree with "Pay-for-Play" only when it refers to this Lottery funding formula.

Step VI: Districts will receive State money for new school construction/renovation based on current building condition and need based on enrollment projections.

Step VII: Steps I through VI above level the playing field, and makes everyone's education adequate. Local governments could supplement the State funding if they desire. Education will never be exactly the same across the state, and we need to give citizens some right to build better-than-average systems.

  • Local governments could establish one-time "impact fees" on developers building new homes and business buildings. Money from these fees will be kept in escrow to help pay for adding new schools, roads, sewers, police & fire units, and other "infrastructure" needs that grow with development. It is likely that these impact fees could easily be $10,000 per new home built.

  • Local School Districts could, with voter approval, levy additional property taxes, local income taxes, or sales taxes to pay for things desired by the community but not covered by basic education funding. However, these additional taxes should require a super-majority (60%) of votes, so that only the most important items are funded, and to prevent an excuse for the State to slide back into over reliance on property taxes.

Education Priorities

My priorities for education funding are very straightforward. I believe that the first education dollars should be spent in high-quality, universal, Pre-School through 3rd Grade education, along with education programs for the parents of these children.

I believe that many of our social ills find their root cause in our inability to establish a sense of self-worth and learning skills in our youngest children. By the time a child reaches high school, it may be too late to turn a life around. Teen pregnancy, drug use, crime, and economic development problems are all reduced when a young person grows up with a sense that he/she has something to look forward to.

I propose a state-funded mandate that all Ohio children have access to high-quality education from ages 3 through 8. Classrooms for these children should be no larger than 15 students.

I understand that this mandate has large personnel and facility cost implications. However, I feel this investment is necessary to lower government's long-term costs - costs in special-needs education, welfare, prison, and health costs. I feel this investment is so important, that all other educational priorities should take a back seat to establishing high-quality early education.

This is the ONLY way to make sure that "no child is left behind". Today, all sorts of children are being left behind when they pose too many difficulties to a kindergarten teacher trying to handle a class of 25 children. Whether your child is slow, unnaturally bright and curious, shy, or aggressive, smaller classes will ensure that your child will receive the special attention he or she needs. There is a higher chance that all children will develop a real thirst for learning and better social skills which will carry them through a productive adulthood.

Just as important, are educational opportunities for the parents of these young children. We should not assume that all parents know how to be good parents. If we provide sex education, health education, stress coping skills, and early child development skills to parents, they will raise better citizens - and become better citizens themselves.

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