Along the Tracks

Friday, March 07, 2003

Not about process, but compliance

The Ohio school funding lawsuit has dragged on for 12 long years. First the Perry County court, then the Ohio Supreme Court, found the state system for funding schools was unconstitutional, due both to its inadequate levels and its reliance on property taxes.

During the booming 1990s, state politicians were able to find extra money to toss into the education kitty, and repeatedly exclaimed, “There, we fixed it!” The Ohio Supreme Court never agreed. What two governors and a Republican-led legislature could not get through their very thick skulls was the ruling’s simple statement that the system - the system - was inadequate. Shunting over some extra funds was not a repair to the system, and as the numerous rulings pointed out, should the economy slow, the money would quickly dry up, precisely becaue it was “extra.” “Fix the system,” the justices ruled five times.

Well, the state never has “fixed the system,” and sure enough, yesterday Gov. Bob Taft cut funding for elementary and secondary education. So now, not only is the system still unconstitutional, we’ve also returned to a state of inadequate funding. Square one.

The Akron Beacon Journal has a sharp editorial questioning whether the defiance of the state’s executive and legislature are about to be rewarded. The group which filed the original lawsuit in 1991 has asked the Perry County court to supervise the execution of the numerous rulings against the state. The state, rest assured, will appeal yet again to the Ohio Supreme Court, hoping a newly elected Republican justice will swing the court over to the state’s side. The Beacon Journal editors seem hopeful that Justice Maureen O’Connor, the former lieutenant governor under Taft, will see the merits of the case, as well as repeated defiance by Columbus, and hold the state to the standards set by the previous court.

I’m not nearly so optimistic. If the court, now dominated by Republicans, lets Taft and the state GOP leadership off the hook, it will be a travesty of justice, and a sad day for both students and property owners in poorer districts.

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