Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Thursday, August 10

Levy Failures Show Urgency of Fixing School Funding Mess

Democratic candidates for the General Assembly are sounding off this week about the widespread failure of school-related property tax levies in Tuesday's special election. As reported in the Toledo Blade, there were 31 school issues on the ballot statewide and only 9 passed, a dismal 29% passage rate. Some suggest that these failures show that voters believe the schools already have enough money, or don't want to "throw good money after bad" by increasing revenues for schools that are badly run. The candidates, however, draw a sharply different conclusion.

Stephen Dyer (D-Green), running for the 43rd Ohio House District open seat of State Auditor candidate Rep. Mary Taylor (R-Green), says the failure of schol levies highlights the critical need to fix Ohio's unconstitutional school funding system.

“What this shows is that the people are sick of cleaning up Bob Taft and his Republican friends’ mess,” Dyer says. “When you’ve been told by the state’s highest court for nearly a decade – as this Republican crowd has – that you can’t rely on property taxes to fund schools and do nothing about it, it proves you don’t care about kids. If any of us showed the same contempt for this court, we would be in jail.”

Perhaps the most telling conversation Dyer has had was with a Brimfield resident who told him that he pays more in property taxes than he ever did on his mortgage. On Tuesday the Field school levy, upon which the man was set to vote, went down to defeat, like 7 out of 8 local levies.

“This isn’t the moonshot,” Dyer said. “We have dozens of examples of how to fund schools. Yet Bob Taft and his Republican allies say it’s too difficult. Well, I say it’s too difficult on our kids now to do nothing about our system, as they have done.” Dyer points specifically to the New Mexico school funding system, implemented in 1973, that is now among the country’s most equitable and has helped New Mexico achieve lower tax rates than Ohio.

For Dyer, reducing the reliance on property taxes to fund schools is common sense. “It does not create a healthy environment for learning when half of a community hates the other half for taxing it all the time,” Dyer explained. “It’s time for the state to fulfill its constitutional duty. When I go to Columbus, I will do just that.”

Karen Adams (D-Kings Mills), running in the 35th Ohio House District against Rep. Michelle Schneider (R), writes that "this month's divisive school levy ballots in Madeira, Monroe, Northwest and Three Rivers could have been avoided if the Ohio General Assembly had only done its job":
These local school funding disputes pit the interests of parents and children against worried property owners. They often present residents with a difficult choice: cutbacks to school systems and their ability to deliver an excellent education or painful increases in property taxes, which unfairly bear the burden of school funding in our state.
School levies reflect the struggle of school boards "to maintain excellence in the face of declining support from uncaring state and national governments." The Republican majority in the General Assembly has ignored the Ohio Supreme Court's repeated rulings that the way education is funded in Ohio is unconstitutional, failing to fund educational in a more equitable manner.

"Rather than resolve the issue," Adams continues, "the General Assembly has passed a budget bill -- supported by my opponent and other Republican lawmakers -- that cuts school funding by another $400 million while reducing taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents," thus "ignoring both court rulings and the needs of our children, who are left as pawns in levy battles even though education pays proven dividends."

In short, the failed levies show that Ohio must take the school funding burden off local property taxes:
To property owners with low or fixed incomes, millage increases based on property values can mean the difference between being able to keep their homes or being forced to sell. To assure that the state accepts its obligation to fund much more of local district budgets, we need genuine tax reform that fairly spreads the responsibility of paying for quality education. With their stranglehold on state decision-making, GOP incumbents have demonstrated that they feel no pressure to reform. Reelecting the same state representatives and senators only assures that the local school funding crises will continue. Only by bringing in candidates with a new respect for education and the challenges facing local schools can we really turn Ohio around, limiting taxes on our homes while assuring quality schooling for our young people.
Debbie Phillips (D-Athens), a city council member running against incumbent Rep. Jimmy Stewart (R-Athens) in the 92nd Ohio House District and also the founder and director of the Ohio Fair Schools Campaign, agrees. "A lot of Republican legislators say people reject school funding levies because schools already have enough money," Phillips says, "but that's not what voters are saying to me." People vote against school levies for lots of reasons, such as that they are on a fixed income and simply can't pay more money, or they are sick and tired of giving money to schools when the system for funding them is unconstitutional and has not been fixed.

"Legislators are just not getting the message," Phillips says, "Voters are outraged that they have not corrected the problem." The state "needs to do its part and stop putting the burden on local voters." What really distresses her, Phillips said, it that "while the legislators are dragging their heels, this is time lost for these kids that can't be regained."

Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding and an expert on the school funding issue, confirms that what these candidates are saying is correct. "Anyone that suggests that school levies fail because people don't want to spend money on schools doesn't have a full grasp of the situation," he told me. "There are lots of reasons levies fail." One is older people on fixed incomes who "are afraid to take on the extra expense." Also, the failure of property tax levies can represent a protest against taxes in general, not just taxes intended for schools:
This is the only tax on which people can vote. They can't vote against sales taxes and income taxes. People take out their frustration about all taxes on property tax levies.
In addition, it is significant that levies fail not just where the schools are bad, but also where schools' performance is excellent. In any event, Phillis concluded, the point is that the state has failed in its responsibilities, and has "shifted all the burden to local property tax payers."


At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's really fascinating is the flyer I picked up this past weekend from David Lynch who is running for the state senate in District 25 (Ward 11, Euclid and some other Eastern suburbs). No where does he mention he is a Republican and the main theme of the flyer is how the legislature has dropped the ball on school funding and how it needs to be fixed to rely less on property taxes. Even the (sane) Republicans know this is something that needs to be addressed. (Of course, the number of sane Republicans currently running is limited)

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Debbie is running a fantastic campaign and is poised to match or even outspend her opponent Jimmy Stewart. For the first time in many years the 92nd house race is finally competitive. While the perception among some is that Jimmy is too good of a campaigner to be defeated, he's never had an exceptionally strong opponent. Four years ago he ran against the disappointing Jim Pancake and 2 years ago he ran against the relatively inexperienced Pat Lang. Debbie has been working for years at the state level to change school funding, and has built up a great reputation on the Athens City Council. This is definitely the year for Democrats in Ohio, and the 92nd House race should be very exciting to watch this fall.


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