By State Rep. John Adams
On Monday July 13, 2009 the Ohio Legislature accepted the conference committee report on the state budget. On Friday, July 17, 2009 Governor Strickland vetoed 61 portions of the bill before signing it into effect. Governor Strickland and the Democrats in the Ohio General Assembly are claiming that with the passage of this legislation, Ohio now has a constitutional school funding system.
Imagine for a moment, back in 1997 that the only thing required to create a constitutional school funding system was to cut state aid to public schools, promise to provide additional funding from an unknown source ten years down the road, add additional mandates, and we would have resolved this issue more than a decade ago.
This state budget, House Bill 2, cuts state aid to public schools by $489 million, or 9.99%. This is the first cut in state aid to schools since 1992 when the cut was 0.7%. This cut is masked by the influx in temporary federal funding from the national stimulus package so that many people see the total number dropping only .25% as has been advertised by the Governor. Between 1997 and 2006 education funding grew at an average rate of 5.54% per year. This year aid drops overall by .25% according to the Governor, (although actual state dollars drops by nearly 10%,) and now school funding is constitutional?
Here is the real challenge. In order to proclaim this is a constitutional system the Governor had to phase in a massive increase in state aid to schools over the next ten years. Essentially school districts have a promise of more funding in the future. In order to fully fund the Governor’s promise today the state would need to find an additional $5.4 billion just for public schools in our current budget. In addition, the current budget relies on roughly $7 billion in one-time funds. Together that is $12.4 billion in new state revenue that must be taxed from somewhere to implement the new school funding plan without devastating the rest of the state budget. Fortunately we have ten years to figure this out, but by that time a student entering school this year will be a sophomore.
Promised funding in government also tends to be short-lived. Public libraries in Ohio brokered a deal with the General Assembly about two and a half years ago. Under the agreement libraries in Ohio receive 2.22% of all state tax revenue. When times are good they will do well, and when times are tight, libraries will have to tighten their belts. Now just over two years later libraries not only accepted a roughly 20% cut due to declining state tax revenue, but also an additional 11% cut because the Governor needed the money promised to libraries to help balance his budget proposal. Ohio school districts would do well to keep this situation in mind.
Under the Ohio Constitution the General Assembly controls the purse strings of the state. However, the Constitution also limits the General Assembly appropriation authority to a two year period. Due to term limits the Governor’s plan relies on a promise that a completely different General Assembly and Governor ten years down the road will finally fully fund public schools.
If this plan is fully phased in ten years from now it will be a great boon to school districts. However, its immense cost and a complete lack of any identified funding source makes it difficult to take seriously. Not once in the last 15 years, when Republicans controlled much of the state government, has the state reduced its total dollar commitment to schools. Now this plan reduces state aid to public schools. Somehow I doubt this is what the people of Ohio had in mind.
As always, I welcome your questions, comments and input on state government issues. Please feel free to contact me by mail (State Representative John Adams, 78th House District, 77 South High Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215), by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (614-466-1507).