School Funding Cases in Ohio

in Ohio Litigation

Historical Background

The Ohio State Constitution requires the General Assembly to provide and fund “a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State.” In Miller v. Korns, 140 N.E. 773 (1923), the Ohio Supreme Court interpreted this provision to mean, inter alia, that a thorough and efficient system could not be one in which any school districts are “starved for funds” or “lacked teachers, buildings, or equipment.” In 1976, the court upheld the state’s then-current funding system on the basis that all districts had the fiscal resources necessary to meet state minimum standards. In that opinion, Board of Education of Cincinnati v. Walter, 390 N.E.2d 813, the court left the door open for possible future “adequacy” litigation when it said that a funding system would violate the constitution if “a school district was receiving so little local and state revenue that the students were effectively being deprived of educational opportunity.”

In 1991, the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding filed such an adequacy lawsuit, DeRolph v. State. In 1997, the state supreme court declared the state’s education finance system unconstitutional and ordered the state to change: the “Foundation Program”; the “over reliance” on local property taxes; “forced borrowing”; and insufficient state funding for school buildings. 677 N.E.2d 733 Despite subsequent funding increases, the court found the funding system substantially unchanged and still unconstitutional in 2000, DeRolph II. Later, the state adopted a school-facilities funding program initiated by Governor Taft.

In 2001, the state revised the funding system and increased state funding for education, but not by an amount sufficient to satisfy the plaintiffs. Later that year, the court issued DeRolph III and appointed a mediator. But, mediation failed, and, in late 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court declared in DeRolph IV the finance system unconstitutional, again, and directed the General Assembly to remedy the deficiencies. 780 N.E.2d 529. The court did not retain jurisdiction.

In 2003, after the legislature rejected the governor’s proposed tax increase for education, plaintiffs asked the Superior Court for a compliance conference on DeRolph. The state asked the state supreme court to prohibit such action. The court, which had changed due to judicial elections, did so, thus ending the case.

Costing Out

In 1993, the Alliance for Adequate School Funding, hired a consulting firm – which used the statistical modeling methodology – to determine the per-pupil cost of an adequate education in Ohio. In 1994, when the DeRolph trial court declared the funding system unconstitutional, it ordered the State Board of Education to prepare proposals for elimination of wealth-based disparities for the legislature. The State Board hired experts – who used the “successful schools” methodology. In 1997, the governor established the Ohio School Funding Task Force, which hired an expert to generate new cost-based figures. He used the “successful schools” method.

Each subsequent cost study resulted in lower calculated costs for the “thorough and efficient” education guaranteed by the state constitution. The legislature further reduced the last cost calculation when it revised the funding system–reductions that the court rejected in its DeRolph II decision.

NCLB Cost Study: $1.5 Billion More

In January 2004, Ohio announced the results of an analysis of NCLB’s financial impact on the state. The study concluded that the state will have to spend $1.447 billion dollars more annually to implement NCLB, an 11% increase in education spending in Ohio. The actual cost estimate was $1.491 billion, but the study also estimated an increased federal contribution of $44 million for NCLB.

Useful Resources:

Molly A. Hunter, Trying to Bridge the Gap: Ohio’s Search for an Education Finance Remedy, 26 Journal of Education Finance 63 (Summer 2000)

Last updated: April 2012

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