Charles Dickens writes about “the best of times” and “the worst of times” in his literary classic, A Tale of Two Cities. For schools across Ohio, the stark reality is that many are facing their own “season of Darkness” as the state has failed in its constitutional duty to “thoroughly and efficiently” fund our public schools. Districts are scraping to get by, cutting transportation, programming and staff to the detriment of Ohio students. The past seven years have brought one state budget cut after another, with the aftershock shaking the very foundation of our community – our families and children.
In this legislative update, I will seek to relate a tale of three schools located in the 99th Ohio House district, Chardon Local, Geneva Area City and Happy Hearts, our own seasons “of Darkness,” and the efforts being made at the state level to ensure the “best of times” at these and all public schools across Ohio.
Chardon Schools are losing close to $1 million every year due to the latest state cuts, and according to the current state school funding formula, the district is viewed as one capable of raising additional revenue through either increased property or local income taxes.
This cold, stark reality does not factor in the increasing number of senior citizens on fixed incomes, competition from other taxing entities for limited levy dollars or just the increasing cost of everyday life. With mounting deficits from state budget cuts, the phasing out of the tangible personal property tax reimbursement and money siphoned away for charter schools, cuts to programs, staff and operations are looming—and students will suffer.
Geneva Area City Schools received nearly $2 million less in state funds in 2017 than they did in 2010. Shrinking state support coupled with losses from open enrollment, charter schools and education “choice” scholarships have stretched resources thin and forced the city to put an income tax levy on the ballot last year. Like Chardon, the state views Geneva as a district that ought to generate more funds for itself. Since millage does not adjust for inflation, Geneva has not benefitted from new, additional local funds since 1994.
Who among us can say that we have lived on a fixed income for that length of time? The state’s failure to fund Geneva Schools thoroughly and efficiently means further cuts to staff, busing, programming and other operations unless local residents take responsibility for the state’s failings. Again, students will ultimately bear the cost of the state’s seeming indifference to its constitutional duty.
Founded over 50 years ago, Happy Hearts educates the area’s most challenged students in a personalized, dignified manner, allowing each student to move at their own pace to reach their highest potential. Tightening budgets and rising costs have forced Happy Hearts to operate at a deficit since 2008. Now, the Board of Developmental Disabilities determined in its December meeting that it would be closing the school at the conclusion of this current school year.
These students will have to return to their home districts, like Chardon and Geneva, districts already struggling to make ends meet with their current operations, let alone the added responsibilities of providing the same quality of education available at Happy Hearts to incoming students. Once more, through no fault of their own, changes in the education system will come at a steep cost to students in Northeast Ohio. Know that I am closely monitoring this situation and am in discussions with officials about what the best course of action is, keeping the needs of students first.
The Kasich administration has cut school and local funding repeatedly over the last seven years, to fund tax breaks for a small percentage of folks at the very top who – frankly – are doing just fine without any more help from Columbus politicians. We were promised this trickle-down shift would somehow, some way create an “Ohio miracle” leading to more jobs and more prosperity.
Yet, we have seen five straight years of lackluster growth, a worsening opioid crisis, cuts to local services and students continuing to fall further behind. Bullish optimism has given way to uncertain job markets, leading many graduates to search for opportunities elsewhere. For many, the “Ohio miracle” is but a mirage.
This failed approach, cutting our way to prosperity, has not worked. This is our reality. In order to compete in this new economy and prepare our workforce for the jobs of the 21st century, we need to invest in a world-class education for all Ohio students, in big cities and small towns—at every level of potential and achievement.
As it stands, our school funding formula is broken and it needs to be fixed. With the help of Republican state Rep. Robert Cupp, we created the School Funding Workgroup, a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators, school officials and other interested parties to examine and propose changes to the state’s school funding model that will address many of the concerns of area schools like Chardon and Geneva. I am proud to say a number of our local school officials, superintendents and a treasurer serve on this panel, ensuring your voices are being heard at an even higher volume at the statehouse.
For many, the tales of our three schools seem to spell “the worst of times” in Ohio education. However, in talking with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, we are beginning to see that a “season of Light, a spring of hope” for our schools is possible. The road to change will not be easy, though. I urge you to continue to engage your local school and government officials on these critical issues. I always want your suggestions, and I will continue to work each day to find solutions to the problems that matter—especially to young people here in Northeast Ohio.
With the School Funding Workgroup, I am excited that we are finally coming together to say enough is enough. Second-rate should never be an option for our schools or our children. Working together, we are seeking the “age of wisdom and the best of times” Dickens so eloquently describes. The time to act is now. Our children are counting on us.
-State Rep. John Patterson