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Why Ohio Schools Rely on Levies and Tax Issues

Background

Ohio’s constitution dictates that its schools must be adequately and equitably funded. But the state has spent the better part of the last 20 years arguing about what that means.

The way school funding is set up, public schools get some money from the state, some from the federal government, and the rest from local tax dollars.

That means schools must turn to voters in their districts to approve most of their local taxes. Usually, those are property-tax levies, though sometimes they’re income taxes. And for construction, districts put bond issues on the ballot.

This setup is supposed to ensure schools are fully funded, but the Ohio Supreme Court has said three times that the system is unconstitutional. And one other time, it gave the system only a conditional endorsement.

The state high court first ruled that Ohio’s school funding model is unconstitutional in 1997 in DeRolph v. State. The court ruled that Ohio’s reliance on local tax dollars leaves too much to the chance of where someone is born and raised. Property-rich districts could provide an education that property-poor districts could not afford. The court said the inequality plays out worst in urban and rural schools.

Since then, Ohio has repeatedly tried to adjust its school-funding model. And Gov. John Kasich now plans to introduce a new plan in 2013.

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