Sunday, June 22, 2003

More fights likely over school funding

The Associated Press

Leaders of a coalition of school districts that won its lawsuit against the state over how schools are funded said it may take Ohio back to court over a compromise budget that scales back planned increases in funding.

Nicholas Pittner, lead lawyer for the Coalition for Equity and Adequacy in School Funding, said he will argue that the Ohio Supreme Court failed to provide a remedy in its last ruling, issued in December.

The coalition of more than 500 schools is upset over the two-year, $48.8 billion budget bill the Legislature approved Friday. Rather than improve funding as ordered by the court, the spending plan provides less state aid than anticipated for Ohio's 1.8 million public school students. Gov. Bob Taft is expected to sign the bill this week.

While the $14.5 billion for schools is nearly an $800 million increase over what they now receive, it comes up almost $150 million short of plan Republican leaders devised to fix the funding system and appease the court.

"Apparently a number of people in the Legislature feel the case has ended and the pressure is off and it's business as usual," coalition spokesman Paul Folmer said. "The odds are excellent we will take some additional legal action."

Despite the overall increases, an analysis of the budget bill by the Legislative Service Commission shows that many districts will receive cuts in basic state aid. Urban districts, which rely more heavily on state aid, will be hurt the most.

"The governor proposed bigger increases ... but in light of the hard economic times we're in right now, the governor is pleased that there is at least an increase for education while other agencies are either stagnant or cut," said Taft spokesman Orest Holubec.

The budget plan also reduces an inflation formula that boosts basic aid for each Ohio student, and it slows the flow of parity aid districts receive to close the gap between rich and poor districts.

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