Education: A Right, Not A Privilege
By State Senator Peggy Lehner
February 06, 2013
 
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Like many Ohioans, I listened with great interest as Governor Kasich unveiled his long-anticipated school-funding proposal.  I was pleased to see that the Governor has developed a school-funding proposal that will provide greater opportunities for many of our children without increasing the burden on our local communities.

Under the Governor’s proposal, no school will see a decrease in state funding, and overall state funding will increase by nearly 9% over the next two years.  In exchange for increased funding, however, the Governor is asking all districts to examine what is working and what isn’t, and be willing to prioritize those programs that make the most difference in helping children learn.  For example, schools will be asked to make sure that all children become successful readers by working diligently to close the tremendous gap in basic skills seen in far too many economically disadvantaged children.  These are the children who too oftenseem almost destined to drop out of high school.  The proposal also provides additional funding to gifted students and those who need quality special education so that everyone can reach their full potential. We can and we must demand that our schools operate as efficiently and as effectively as possible.  This proposal offers incentives to schools to do just that. 

 Those waiting to hear that they would see property tax relief were undoubtedly disappointed, but that hope, frankly, was unrealistic.  Ohio’s school funding system was declared unconstitutional in 1998 not because it relied on local property taxes, but because it did so in a manner that created considerable inequity in the resources available to students in different communities.  The Kasich proposal addresses those inequities by focusing state resources on students in lower wealth schools that need it the most to ensure that all children have the opportunity for a quality education no matter where they live.  The reality is that it costs a great deal of money to educate our children.  Schools received $9.45 billion in property taxes in 2010.  The only way to eliminate this significant source of funding would be to dramatically raise other taxes such as the state sales tax (an idea that Ohio voters soundly defeated in 1998) or the state income tax, which would be disastrous for the state’s economic growth.  As it is, K-12 education counts for just over 40% of the state’s budget, a number that reaches 50% when higher education is included.  State spending for human services such as Medicaid accounts for another 32%.  That leaves less than 20% for all other expenses, including our prisons, libraries, and state parks, just to name a few.    The idea that the state could substantially assume what is currently the local share of education funding is simply a pipedream.

It is also important to remember that Ohio is not alone in its reliance on property taxes.   Nearly every state has a local property tax that contributes to school funding, and several have a state property tax.  There may come a day that Ohio undergoes a dramatic change in its tax structure, but the amount of money that tax payers will be asked to contribute to education will not decrease.  It might come out of a different pocket, but until money truly starts falling from trees, the taxpayer will not see the burden of school funding go away. 

Working within the framework of this economic reality, the Governor has proposed a thoughtful plan that is a big step in the right direction.  As more details become known, and the legislature begins a thorough examination of all the components, I hope to share further analysis of this sweeping proposal.  The children of Ohio deserve the best education we can provide. The future prosperity of our state and the well being of our families calls for nothing less.

 
 
 
  
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