Ohio Supreme Court Rulings on the School Funding Crisis

Structural flaws in Ohio's unconstitutional school funding system force districts to go to voters every few years for operating funds.

In addition to the following citations, The United Church of Christ prepared an exemplary critique of the now-overruled DeRolph III decision, noting the State's failure to cost out the components of a "thorough and efficient" system.

Court: School Costs Grow Faster Than Inflation

Resnick dissent in DeRolph III (Note: DeRolph IV overturned DeRolph III)

As the evidence in this case conclusively indicates, for a variety of reasons the costs of educating our children continue to increase well above the general inflation rate. However, the Constitution does not make the Thorough and Efficient Clause conditional. We must never lose sight of the importance of this case on the futures of the children of this state, and indeed on the future of the entire state.

Court: Unfunded Mandates Cause School Funding Crisis

DeRolph II Majority at page 15 (Authored by Resnick; Douglas, Sweeney and Pfeifer concur)

Many factors have contributed in recent years to make what had been a problematical system into one that has reached crisis proportions throughout the state. The problems have escalated in part due to “unfunded mandates” imposed by the state and federal governments, causing the cost of educating our children to rise dramatically. Even when the state or federal government does fund a particular program or endeavor, significant associated local costs may be incurred. Increased costs for numerous programs and needs, such as and a myriad of other things, have exacerbated problems that seem less and less manageable as total expenditures continually rise within a system impeded by the arbitrariness of its revenue stream.

Achieve: Institutionalized Financial Instability Diverts Leaders

In DeRolph II, Justice Resnick cited Achieve: New Compact for Ohio's Schools, which explains the importance of providing stable funding so districts can focus on improving education. The board of directors of Achieve at the time this report was issued included prominent business leaders: Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. (IBM), John E. Pepper (Procter & Gamble), Philip M. Condit (Boeing), George M.C. Fisher (Eastman Kodak), Edward B. Rust, Jr. (State Farm), and Arthur F. Ryan (Prudential).

In our view, the recommendations we have made to strengthen Ohio's standards, assessment, and accountability systems must not await the resolution of the school finance suit for their adoption and implementation. That being said, however, it was apparent to us in our interviews with Ohio educators that it will be difficult to get their full attention as long as the finance issue remains unresolved. The suit creates a cloud of unpredictability and uncertainty that hangs over the educational landscape. The uncertainty surrounding the state's school finance structure is compounded by the legislatively-imposed tax limitation measure that requires school districts across the state to go back to their voters every two or three years to raise sufficient revenue to operate their schools. As one superintendent put it, "I spend every third year running a political campaign, not running my school district." Given the ambitious performance targets Ohio has set for its school districts, superintendents should be expected to be full-time educational leaders, not parttime campaign managers. This institutionalized financial instability and uncertainty invites frustration and cynicism and diverts the attention of local school boards and their administrative leaders from their core mission, the improvement of teaching and learning.

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With a new governor in place, and a State Superintendent about to take office, this may be a propitious moment to forge a new social compact between Ohio's government policymakers and its education community. The terms of the compact would be relatively simple and straightforward: governmental leaders will commit to fix the funding system and provide adequate time and resources to enable educators to develop the skills they need to teach to higher standards, in return for which the education community will agree to be held accountable for making annual, measurable progress in helping virtually all young people meet higher academic standards.