24 years ago on March 24, the Ohio Supreme Court in DeRolph declared that Ohio’s elementary and secondary schools were neither thorough nor efficient; thus, the system ruled unconstitutional. The decision turned on the thorough and efficient system clause of Article VI, Section 2 of the Ohio Constitution.
The Court identified four factors that contributed to the unworkability of the school funding system and must be eliminated. Two of those factors continue to be relevant: the operation of the school foundation program and the emphasis of property tax in the school funding formula.
Nearly a quarter century later, the school foundation formula remains broken and the emphasis on property tax has not been abated.
The current school foundation formula does not reflect the cost of an equitable and adequate education as required by the Constitution. Neither has dependence on property tax been diminished.
The March 24, 1997 DeRolph ruling, however, has benefitted millions of Ohio school children. There are over 1200 new school buildings in operation in response to DeRolph. Although the funding formula has not been fixed, the state has devoted a greater portion of its general revenue budget to K12 education. In fiscal year 1992, the state devoted 34.5% of the general revenue budget to K12 education. That percentage increased to above 40%. Unfortunately, charters and vouchers have siphoned off most of the increased revenue.
In December 2020, the legislature had an opportunity to respond responsively to the 1997 DeRolph decision. The current Senate president and the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee held up the Cupp-Patterson bill (HB 305), which seriously addressed the constitutional issue.
Now with a lot of new faces in the legislature, the re-introduced Cupp-Patterson bill (HB1) may be undergoing some revisions that are not particularly beneficial; however, Statehouse sages predict it will pass the House by a large majority. The Senate is a different story. Word on the street is that some senators will extract a high price for supporting the bill. They will demand voucher expansion for support of Cupp-Patterson.
It is time to fix the school funding system and phase out vouchers and charters. These choice distractions have been a major hindrance to the development of a thorough and efficient system of common schools as required by the Ohio Constitution.
December 19, 1991 – A complaint is filed by the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding in Perry County on behalf of the Northern Local School District challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s elementary and secondary public school funding system.
October 25, 1993 – The trial begins in the Perry County Court of Common Pleas and lasts 30 days. The trial includes over 70 witnesses and over 500 exhibits.
July 1, 1994 – Judge Linton Lewis, Jr. issues a ruling stating that education is a fundamental right and that Ohio’s system of school funding is unconstitutional.
August 12, 1994 – The Ohio Governor announces that the State Defendants filed a Notice of Appeal to the Perry County Court of Appeals. The State Board of Education is included among the Appellants in the Notice of Appeal.
August 30, 1995 – In a split decision, the Court of Appeals issues an opinion essentially overturning the trial court decision in DeRolph.
October 10, 1995 – The Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding files an appeal asking the Ohio Supreme Court to accept jurisdiction of the case.
March 24, 1997 – The Ohio Supreme Court issues an opinion holding that the current funding system is unconstitutional and orders a “complete, systematic overhaul” of the system with enactment required within 12 months by March 24, 1998. The Court remands the case to the trial court to conduct a hearing and issue findings as to whether the anticipated remedial legislation satisfies the mandates of the Ohio Supreme Court.(DeRolph I)