New plans for school funding are up for debate.
The Statehouse soon will be rocking from a seismic debate over the future of school funding.
Conservative state Rep. Andrew Brenner, never shy about challenging educational customs, assured that by issuing a sweeping plan to overhaul how Ohio finances primary and secondary education.
As chairman of the House Education Committee, the Powell Republican can ensure the plan gets attention.
Brenner would eliminate local property and income taxes for schools, replace them with a statewide property tax of 38.6 mills, forbid local districts from seeking additional taxes, make the state pay off existing school debt, and allow open enrollment across the state's 612 school districts.
His plan yields $8,740 per pupil, which would follow the student to the chosen school, along with categorical aid, such as special needs subsidies.
Brenner is smart enough to know this plan is too radical to be enacted as proposed. His goal most likely is to provoke a wide-ranging discussion over the costs and benefits of alternatives to the current model.
The debate is needed, because Ohio's school-funding system is still considered unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court, even though the court relinquished jurisdiction over the matter more than 15 years ago.
The central problem has remained unchanged for more than a century: Ohio's diversity assures vast disparities in real-estate wealth, so any school-funding system heavily reliant on local property taxes creates large inequities.
In fiscal 2017, Ohio will spend more than $20.3 billion from state and local revenues on K-12 education. About half comes from the state; half from local districts.
Even though the state sends most of its half to the neediest districts, it's not enough to begin to close the funding gap between rich and poor districts.
The Bexley School District, for example, spent over $16,000 per pupil in fiscal 2015, with only $3,120 of that coming from the state. Bexley raised nearly $10,000 per pupil that year from property taxes, and another $2,800 from school district income taxes.
Under Brenner's plan, Bexley would lose more than one-third of its school revenues; Grandview Heights would lose more than 40 percent; Upper Arlington would lose 35 percent; Worthington would lose 24 percent.
Similar reductions would take place among the more affluent school districts, all in the name of evening out school funding statewide. That pretty much assures Brenner's plan cannot win broad support.
Brenner apparently wants to show there are two ways to achieve equity: leveling up, which would be hugely expensive; and leveling down, which would be politically untenable.
It's interesting to note that, from 1866 to 1902, Ohio levied a statewide property tax, with some of the revenue dedicated to schools. However, the state ended property taxation for general-fund purposes in 1902. Since then, taxation of real estate has been reserved for local governments, especially schools.
In the modern era, the state's primary revenue sources have been the sales and use tax, which brought in $12.4 billion in fiscal 2015; and the individual income tax, which generated $8.8 billion the same year.