Sunday, May 20, 2001

Group may ask court to stop school funding




The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The coalition suing the state over its school-funding system could ask the Ohio Supreme Court to cut off money to schools so they can't reopen in the fall.

        The move is designed to shock the legislature into reforming the system, said William L. Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, a group of more than 550 school districts.

        “It might be something for the court to consider,” Mr. Phillis told the Columbus Dispatch for a story Saturday. “We're funding an unconstitutional system now.”

        Warren Russell of the Ohio School Boards Association said the move might create a sense of urgency with the public and startle lawmakers.

        “It certainly would create a crisis,” he said. “I've had legislators say to me, "There's no crisis out there.'”

        An absence of state funding would not affect all districts equally. Mr. Russell said districts operating primarily with local money might be able to open in the fall. Most affected would be poor, rural districts that receive more than 80 percent of their funding from the state.

        Jennifer Detwiler, spokeswoman for House Speaker Larry Householder, said the coalition's move is premature because the legislature will present a constitutional school funding plan to the high court next month.

        “The coalition is worrying about sentencing before the trial has even begun,” Ms. Detwiler said Saturday. “It's inappropriate, and it's certainly not helpful to the process.”

        A Perry County Common Pleas judge declared the school-funding system unconstitutional in 1994. The Supreme Court agreed and ordered a remedy in March 1997.

        But the court delayed the effect of the order, allowing the schools to continue operating.

        The coalition has been dissatisfied with the state's response. A year ago, the high court listed seven deficiencies and ordered the legislature to respond by June 15.

        The next two-year state budget, which contains the legislature's response to the court, will head to the Senate this week, where it is expected to pass.

        The coalition has derided the measure as deficient, saying it does not resolve the issues raised by the court.

        “What they're doing has no relation to the educational program that's going on in the schools today, let alone what should be going on in the schools today,” Mr. Phillis said.

       



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