Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cincy Enquirer Tackles School Funding

The Cincinnati Enquirer took on the broader issue of school funding in Ohio (and Kentucky) in a Tuesday editorial. While its point -- that communities and schools need to do a better job of supporting one another -- is an important one, the saddest part of the editorial for me was this section:
But fixing education is about more than passing tax levies. Behind the financial crisis is a crisis of confidence.
This is a resignation to the idea that passing levies is schools' only hope: The state is a lost cause.

Earlier in the editorial, the writers noticed that within a year the number of school districts that reported budget deficits went from less than half to two out of three. What changed? The state made massive cuts and federal stimulus money dried up. And while the Enquirer made the connection, they simply left it at that.

No demand for the state to live up to its constitutional obligation and reduce the reliance on property taxes to pay for schools. No suggestion to have the public demand such things of their state legislators or Governor. No reminder that for 15 years the state has been required to develop a funding formula that accurately measures the needs of students, then significantly reduces property taxes to pay for those needs. No reminder that the state instead has responded by not having a funding formula for the next two years and slashing state funding by nearly 20% relative to inflation over the last 10 years. And yes, no mention that with the Evidence Based Model, the state had promised to provide up to $400 per $100,000 home in property tax relief over the next 10 years, but the legislature reneged on that promise almost as soon as it was made.

The answer for the Enquirer is this: Districts and communities need to develop better public relations so they can pass more levies, thus increasing our reliance on property taxes to pay for schools.

I know some may think I'm beating a dead horse here, but I learned something from one of my life mentors: If they're getting away with it, it's your fault. State leaders can only get away scot-free from their constitutional obligations if we let them. So let's not let them. This is exemplified with the Cleveland Plan, whose only source of new revenue would come from a massive, new levy in November, whose passage is certainly questionable. Not a single penny is being asked of from the state.

Do I think communities and districts need better partnerships to develop a better likelihood of levy success? Of course. More important, though, is a renewed effort to hold state lawmakers and leaders accountable for forcing districts and communities to make pre-emptive cuts so they can perhaps pass levies that still won't provide adequate resources for every kid in Ohio to receive a world-class education, as they deserve.

However, I understand where the Enquirer is coming from, given Ohio's struggles with this issue.
It is also time for communities to realize that they, not the state or federal government, are the only short-term salvation for local schools, and that educational stability is a key foundation for economic recovery, and continuing to build a strong citizenry.
More stable than that? What the state's framers envisioned: a thorough and efficient state system of education that the state, not local communities, is responsible for funding and leading.

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