Whether or not you have (or had) a child in the Cleveland Heights–University Heights public school district, and even if your children attend(ed) private schools, the Fair School Funding Plan, if passed by the Ohio State Legislature and signed into law by our governor, WILL BENEFIT EVERYONE IN CLEVELAND HEIGHTS.
But before we dive in, it is important to clarify that we must honor EVERY family’s right to choose the course of education for their children that aligns with their values and meets their needs. As I will discuss further in this piece, the public vs. private dispute in our community is driven by the struggle for resources created by how our state legislature has structured school funding.
Strong Schools, Strong Community, Strong City
We all know that when a city has high-quality schools that prepare students to be thriving, responsible citizens, the positive impacts benefit many elements of our community, including:
- lower crime rates
- fewer households living in poverty
- improved public health
- higher property values
- increased commercial activity
- higher wages
- increased tax revenue and, thus, improved public services
- higher rates of civic involvement
Therefore, it is in the best interest of EVERYONE in Cleveland Heights to work toward ensuring that our schools have the resources they need to meet each child where they are and equip them with the academic and life skills to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to making our community better.
Yet our public schools’ biggest obstacle to meeting this goal is getting the funding to provide every student, no matter their background or needs, a dynamic and engaging education. Due to the wide disparity in funding across Ohio school districts, Ohio’s model of funding public education has been ruled unconstitutional FOUR TIMES.
As a part of Ohio’s system of public education, our district shares responsibility for funding our public schools. In the 1997 DeRolph case (the first time school funding was ruled unconstitutional), the Ohio Supreme Court found that the state was not ensuring that every student has equal access to a high-quality education, as it did not fairly account for different school districts’ capacities to fund their schools. Because property values vary widely across school districts, funding the local contribution through property taxes makes the system inequitable.
And yet our state legislators have failed to uphold their duty to remedy our public school funding system in order to bring it into compliance with our state constitution.
The Fair School Funding Plan (HB1) would fix this. Here’s how it will help our entire city.
The Funding We Need . . .
The Fair School Funding Plan will change the way the state determines the base cost for each student. Before, essentially the state decided how much money it wanted to spend on education, then divided that by the number of students on record. The base cost had nothing to do with how much it actually costs to educate a child and give them the care and resources they need to learn and develop.
Under the Fair School Funding Plan, the base cost will be determined through research that includes in-depth dialogue with other states, educators’ experience, and an analysis of spending patterns across Ohio’s diverse school districts: urban and rural, large and small. It also prioritizes the whole child by including funding not only for:
- classroom instruction,
- instructional and student supports,
- school leadership and operations, and
- direct leadership and accountability,
- social-emotional needs,
- safety and security,
- career readiness,
- counselors, and
The plan also increases the base cost for districts with higher numbers of students with additional needs, such as gifted students, students in poverty, and students with special needs. It is anticipated that some of these categorical aids will increase the state investment in our district.
The Fair School Funding Plan establishes a base cost for each student that actually reflects what’s needed to achieve the individual and collective benefits of education that we want here in Cleveland Heights.
. . . At a Cost That Makes More Sense for Cleveland Heights
As stated above, every locality MUST provide some of the funds for their public schools, and the state determines how much of the base cost they should carry and how much should be paid for by the people of the district. Currently, this is calculated solely according to property wealth—and thanks to Cleveland Heights’ phenomenal homes, the state thinks we can pay a lot.
But as we all know, people pay taxes, not homes. And we have many people here in Cleveland Heights who are struggling, and some of our large stately houses are occupied by seniors living on limited incomes.
The new funding formula will now factor in income when determining the local contribution. Property wealth will still be considered, weighted at 60 percent, but income will now provide context to that, and it will be weighted at 40 percent. (You can get more detail HERE.)
It is anticipated that this adjustment in the funding formula will result in a greater share of base cost funding to be provided by the state. And this means there will be a smaller demand being made of our residents. This will make the need for levies few and far between (only to account for inflation), enabling us to start easing our property tax burden.1
Vouchers Stay, Community In-Fighting Over Vouchers Goes
The state currently mandates that EdChoice vouchers for private and charter school students are funded directly from our local district’s budget. The vouchers take more than what the state allots per student (the base cost), costing our district almost $10 million during the 2020–2021 school year alone. This amount has been steadily rising each year, making it increasingly difficult for our public schools to provide its students with the full range of services that our district’s children need.2
Here in Cleveland Heights, we already have community stressors such as high property taxes as well as racial and wealth inequities.3 Within this context, the local dialogue around school levies and, by extension, our public and private schools, has become increasingly heated and ugly.
The state legislature created this divide in our community by mandating that private school vouchers are funded by public school districts. The Fair School Funding Plan will fix this by funding vouchers directly from the state.
Cleveland Heights is a progressive city. Our residents understand that strong schools make a strong community. ALL of our schools—public and private—deserve the support of our residents and the resources they need to give our children a dynamic, caring, and rich education.
Ohio’s four-times-ruled-unconstitutional public school funding system has hit our unique city’s district particularly hard, and the financial stress of compensating for this has been tearing our community apart and driving up already-high property taxes. The Fair School Funding Plan will help relieve this stress so we can begin the work of healing our community.
Our city government leadership must be an advocate for ALL of our schools. But we must also recognize that so much in our city—property values, our local economy, tax revenue, civic engagement, crime rates—is in part tied to the health of our public schools in particular. Our elected officials cannot take a hands-off approach. To advocate for fair funding of our public schools is to advocate for our entire city.
1. In Ohio, due to the 1976 H.B 920, the dollar amount raised from school levies is fixed, so as home values rise, the amount collected for a specific levy does not rise with them; instead, the millage of the levy—and our property tax rate—is decreased. In the 30 years after 1976, almost 10,000 levies were put on the ballot in school districts across the state to cover the cost of inflation. Cleveland Heights voters are not alone in their weariness of levies, but at fault for the need for periodic levies is H.B. 920. You can read more about how levies and millage work HERE and HERE.
2. It is important to note that the district, like every district in the state, undergoes a financial audit every year. This is different from a performance audit, which, in addition to costing our district $80,000 to conduct, recommends ways to cut costs. Previous performance audits in other districts have recommended cost-efficiency measures such as increasing class sizes to eliminate teaching positions, cutting extracurriculars or making them pay-to-play, decreasing transportation access, cutting back on services such as social workers, and so on.
3. In Ohio, EdChoice vouchers affect 140 out of the state’s 611 districts. Of these, 22 districts pay out 90% of the vouchers. Of those, ALL are majority poverty, and 19 out of 22 (including ours) are majority students of color.