There is a lot at stake in the upcoming elections on November 2. Many Ohio school districts brace for more budget cuts if their levies fail at the polls. You might wonder: Why do school districts rely on property taxes to foot the bill for education, especially when the DeRolf decisions have ruled this method of funding unconstitutional by the Ohio State Supreme Court? What alternatives are there for property tax owners?
Funding for schools come from a variety of sources. Property taxes are just one source, but they have been closely tied to funding models in most states for many years. Some think this is a nightmare (see Lincoln Institute of Land Policy), while others think this facilitates efficient local decision-making, that local voters will take the time to evaluate local school boards and their decisions about spending.
Some voters are willing to pay if their children get a good return on their investment. Interestingly, those states that are funded the heaviest through local tax dollars are those that are considered to have the best educational systems in the country. Ohio spends 4.3% of its total taxable resources on education, higher than the national average of 3.7% — though that may change if governors change at the state level — and was ranked sixth in the nation in 2009.
It is important to note that Ohio’s tax base is more reliant now on residential and agricultural properties than it has ever been. The biggest reason is tax abatements, which are granted by local municipalities. Cities argue that tax abatements draw industry to their communities, but the reality is that property tax abatements mostly benefit large businesses, many that have made huge political contributions to locally elected government entities. Many property tax abatements are granted beyond the view of voter’s radar, during special meetings of city councils. The benefits are minimal in that they are given to companies that pay minimum wage and do not affect the income of their administrators one iota. In other words, the only beneficiaries in tax abatements are the cities’ income tax coffers, and CEOs of large companies. Small businesses are never given abatements and school districts lose out entirely.
Ohio school districts also lose local dollars to charter schools. For every child that leaves the public school system, a district loses $5720 in foundation formula funding from the state. In 2009, $585,238,079 was sadly lost to charter schools in Ohio. Schools that have no better record of educating our children than public schools.
Another reason is the funding of the No Child Left Behind Act, an ill-conceived idea that if we spend more money on testing, it will, somehow, increase student learning. Some studies have found that the nation will spend $6.1 – 8.5 billion annually on testing.
At least we know that property taxes will not change with the political winds. Still, they are a huge burden for those on fixed incomes. Our legislators need to step up to the plate, analyze our funding problems, and pass laws to protect our small businesses, our property owners, and our schools. Ohio needs to eliminate property tax abatements and charter school funding statewide. Local levies are imperfect, but for the time being the reality remains: Ohioans needs to pass their local levies for our public schools to continue operating and have any chance of offering a quality education for every student.
By Susan Ridgeway, Streetsboro Education Association