By Ryan Berry
GREENVILLE — The Ohio Coalition of Equity and Adequacy (OCEA) came to prominence in the 1990s when, through the DeRolph Case, public schools argued that Ohio’s formula for funding schools was flawed. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of the schools. Part of the issue was the reliance on property taxes for funding, which meant some schools were not as adequately funded as others.
Move forward 20-plus years and the OCEA is again sounding the alarm. While the organization maintains the state hasn’t fully fixed the issues from before, they are now concerned with a push to expand the school voucher (EdChoice) program.
Over 120 school districts have signed onto to the Vouchers Hurt Ohio Coalition. Greenville City Schools (GCS) is the only Darke County school district listed on the website as a participating district.
Superintendent Doug Fries, GCS, explained GCS is part of the OCEA and has been since 2008. He also believes the school voucher issue is a continuation of the same concern schools continue to have regarding appropriate school funding.
Currently, only designated school districts based on performance are eligible for the EdChoice program. GCS is not one of those districts. Fries is concerned if the program expands many school districts would lose significant funding.
Fries said, “Typically, the taxpayers want us to maintain school funding without increasing property tax or millage. The school board is charged with trying to maintain funding for our school district and our goal is to do this without increasing taxes. When any legislation allows more money to go to vouchers, charters and private school, that takes money away from state formula funding and would cause us to go back to the taxpayers for more property tax.” He believes the majority of people would not be in favor of more taxes. Other than for the building project, Fries said GCS has not asked taxpayers for additional funding. When it comes to funding the district, Fries said they have only asked for renewals. “Our ultimate goal is to continue that and this (EdChoice expansion) would be detrimental to that goal.”
The Vouchers Hurt Ohio website explained their opinion, “Vouchers started as a pilot program, but quickly ballooned out of control as lawmakers continue to change the criteria for qualifying districts. Ohio is fast becoming the Wild West for vouchers. The program has grown from $42 million in 2008 to more than $350 million this year. Vouchers are a refund and rebate program for parents who, in many cases, never intended to enroll their children in public schools. The draining of these resources places a burden on local property owners and taxpayers and deprives our children of the high-quality education they need and deserve.”
Fries said GCS supports anybody sending their kids wherever they want, “We just don’t think they should take the state funding money to do it, because doing so would ultimately require us to go back to the taxpayers and ask for more tax money or to cut our present programs.” The superintendent explained the funding is not taken directly from the local share but is taken from the state share. The district would need to increase its local share in order to replace the state share that is lost.
Although GCS is not an EdChoice designated district, they have lost funding for other reasons. In the 2021-22 school year, the district paid out $155,906.20 for the John Peterson and Autism Scholarship. That number is down from a high of $176,288.50 in the 2020-21 school year. College Credit Plus program cost the district $223,626.45 in 2020-21 and $212,708.03 in 2021-22. Open enrollment cost the district $3.1 million in 2021-22 and $2.7 million in 2020-21.
Funding for the school district continues to trend downward. According to Fries, unrestricted state funding in 2018-19 was over $13 million. The estimate for this year is a little over $11 million.
Fries pointed out the only funds the district has provided toward the OCEA and Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit is the annual dues the district pays to be part of the OCEA. There are 218 other school districts in the state that belong to the coalition. “The coalition fights to maintain school foundation money.”
Fries concluded, “Our fight is to protect taxpayers’ dollars.”
To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected].