School funding in Ohio still unaddressed

Attend a board of education meeting in Ohio, and there’s an excellent chance you will hear school officials worrying about how to pay the bills.

In truth, the Buckeye State’s public schools could be operated more efficiently. The 611 or so school districts in the state represent an excellent opportunity for consolidation to both spend money more efficiently and provide young Ohioans with better educations.

But that solution never seems to gain much traction. Politicians take it for granted the few voices loudly protesting against any consolidation represent the will of most of the people, so opportunities to pursue the idea are not presented.

And many Ohioans think the existing system is fiscally practical – or would be if the state provided an equitable school funding formula.

What, you say? That has been the law of the land for more than a decade, since the famous “DeRolph decision” by the state Supreme Court, you say?

Perhaps so. But as high court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor remarked a few days ago, the General Assembly still has not complied fully with the series of four rulings in the DeRolph case.

“I don’t think it’s changed,” O’Connor said of the school funding situation.

She added she is “waiting like everyone else to see what the legislature and the governor are going to do with it.”

O’Connor wasn’t even on the state Supreme Court when, in 2002, justices issued the last of the four decisions ordering the state to provide a more equitable funding system for public schools. But she clearly has strong opinions about the issue.

In what Gov. John Kasich and legislators should take as a warning, O’Connor said she often is asked why the high court doesn’t do something about school funding, and responds justices “can’t resurrect a case to bring it before us.”

It does not require a judicial scholar to understand what O’Connor seemed to be suggesting – that if a lawsuit similar to DeRolph is filed in the future, the court would come down hard on the governor and General Assembly for failing to implement its earlier ruling.

Kasich and lawmakers do not deserve wholesale condemnation in the situation, however. They have had their hands full during the past couple of years, getting the state budget in balance.

Still, O’Connor’s comments, combined with the real need seen in so many school districts, are a call for the governor and legislators to put new emphasis on equitable school funding for all Ohio public schools.

The task needs to be made a priority – before the state Supreme Court gets an opportunity to put discontent like O’Connor’s in the form of an order.