Public schools in Ohio receive funding from three sources: the federal government, the state government and local taxes, usually in the form of property tax levies. In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that particular funding model as unconstitutional in DeRolph versus State.
The court says it’s unconstitutional because the wealthier school districts have more homeowners to draw property taxes from, compared to the poorer school districts. This leads to the richer districts getting richer and the poorer districts getting poorer. When this happens, in the poorer districts, morale drops among all parties involved – the parents, teachers and students.
This low morale in the poorer districts is seen in the rankings of 709 school districts in Ohio. For example, poorer school districts like Columbus City Schools (636th) and Cleveland Municipal (637th) rank near the bottom, while richer school districts like Upper Arlington City (35th) and Olentangy Local (50th) rank near the top.
Firsthand example of low morale
A while ago, when I was a substitute teacher with the Columbus Public Schools for a few months, I subbed for a while at an elementary school. In my fourth grade class were two brothers who basically did whatever they wanted.
The school administration seemed terrified by the boys’ mother, who threatened to my face to beat me up in a meeting with the principal. And the father was not any better; he just laughed and hung up when I once called him about his sons’ disruptive class behavior.
Often, when the system is stacked against people, they quit caring and stop trying. So it is important that the funding system be fixed. Unfortunately, it has yet to be fixed, although each governor has tried to fix since the court’s decision in 1997. The latest attempt, by Governor John Kasich, is currently stuck in legislation.
My motivation in school
When I attended the Columbus Public Schools, I was not that concerned about grades until fourth grade, when I received a free milkshake for getting an “A” on my report card. I was a little envious of a classmate who got five A’s, which entitled her to a free meal.
That motivated me. The following year, I got straight A’s all four quarters, earning me a free pizza party. While the lure of free pizza eventually wore off, by the time I reached college, I was motivated to do well in my studies for my own satisfaction and to learn as much as I could for my own benefit.
How Ohio’s school funding system should be fixed
I really hope that the funding system can be fixed. I want my some of my relatives who are currently attending school in some of the state’s poorer school districts to have access to better educational resources.
But if no one can come up with a constitutionally acceptable way to fund the schools, then I say pay the parents in the poorer districts to make their children do well in school. Give the parents tax credits each time the child gets an A or make honor roll.
Pay the students as well each time they make honor roll. But for the students, deposit the money in an account that only they can access, once they graduate from high school.
This may be morally unacceptable to many. And yes, in a perfect world, the parents should not need a financial incentive to make their children do well in school. Neither should students need to get money to try their best in school.
But the world is not perfect; the school funding system in Ohio is unconstitutional. Perhaps like me back in fourth grade, the parents and students need an incentive to motivate themselves, to get on the right path. To excel above a system that has no incentive of its own to fairly fund all schools in the state.