Monday, June 11, 2001

Lawmakers withhold files in school fund case

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Attorneys for the Legislature acknowledge that they are withholding some documents on school funding requested by a coalition of school districts.

        They say the state Constitution allows lawmakers to keep the items confidential, and they're not telling how many items are being held back or what's in them.

        The documents are being withheld even though the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 6-1 last month that the state must provide material requested by the coalition on how the most recent school funding plan was developed.

        Mary Lynn Readey, an assistant state attorney general, said the legislators base their refusal to give up the documents on a section of the Ohio Constitution. That provision shields any legislator's act that is “an integral part of the deliberative and communicative process ... with respect to the consideration and passage or rejection of proposed legislation.”

        William L. Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, says the state's refusal fits what he terms a recent trend of state officials toward government secrecy.

        “I think it's consistent with doing things out of the public view,” he said.

        The organization of more than 550 school districts has been critical of state officials for developing the bulk of the $45 billion state budget for fiscal 2002 and 2003 during a series of private meetings.

        Lawmakers and the governor's office initially refused to release any documents they used during those talks, but eventually made some of the items public.

        Gov. Bob Taft signed the budget last week. He vetoed 49 items within the budget, but accepted its school funding provisions.

        A new school funding plan is needed because the Supreme Court, in a pair of 4-3 decisions, ruled in 1997 and 2000 that Ohio's current funding setup is unconstitutional.

        The court wants all evidence on whether the state's latest plan meets the court's mandate submitted by Friday.


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