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How Ohio Funds K-12 Schools

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.

Article 6 of the Ohio Constitution reads in part:

The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state…

Today, 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. Gov. Ted Strickland introduced a school funding formula called the Ohio Evidence-Based Model in 2009. That model was never implemented. Gov. John Kasich introduced his Achievement Everywhere plan in early 2013. That plan is currently working its way through the legislative process, with both the Ohio House and Senate proposing alternative school funding plans.

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The percentage of property tax revenues that support local schools in Ohio has shifted dramatically from the business community to homeowners and farmers over the last two decades, according to a study by the Education Tax Policy Institute in Columbus. The study chronicles the change in Ohio’s tax rate structure from 1975 to 2011, including [...]

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