Every November, school districts eagerly await the fate of levies, bonds or income tax increases that would provide funding for public schools. This year was no different, but it gave districts a bit of relief as voters decided to pass nearly two-thirds of the 194 school issues on the ballot.
The results showed that 97 percent of replacement issues passed, while only 36 percent of tax increases were approved — statistics that are fairly typical for election results, according to Damon Asbury, the director of Legislative Services at the Ohio School Boards Association.
“Obviously renewal levies or replacement levies did significantly better than requests for new or additional dollars…you always see that [with] new money requests, it takes two or three times on the ballot before the districts are able to get the voters to approve them,” Asbury said.
Overall, the results showed an above average passage rate for school issues.
“Over the last decade, this was the second highest passage rate,” Asbury said. “People understand that school funding is as much a local decision as it is a state level funding issue, so they recognized that they needed to meet their local level requirements.”
The mix of state and local funding was overhauled this year as Gov. John Kasich’s funding formula increased total spending on education, which according to an NPR article, gives $15 billion to public schools over the next two years. It also cut off state subsidies for local school district levies, making it more difficult for local districts to convince voters to approve their requests.
But there are some problems with the new formula, particularly because the education budget is not fully funded.“We have a large number of districts that are on…a guarantee, which means that they get basically the same amount of money for the next two years that they got the last two years,” Asbury said. “And then there are a significant number of districts that are capped. That means that even though the formula would call for them to have more money, they are actually capped for how much money they get from the state, so it gives them less money than they really should have.”
Asbury believes that the decision to pass or a fail a school district levy is based on local concerns such as if the people are satisfied with how the district is doing business and how much the children are learning. If voters are not content with their district’s actions, school boards are forced to re-evaluate their practices to see if there are ways to gain approval.
“Is there any rational reason for the failure? Do they need to do a better job communicating with the voters? If there are [scandals], they have to build trust. They have to tell a better story and, depending on how rapidly the district needs money, there may have to be staff cuts or program cuts,” Asbury said.
However, no matter what a person’s opinion is on the set up of school funding, sometimes it is necessary for schools to put issues on the ballot in order to avoid the negative impacts of a smaller budget and combat rising costs because of factors like inflation.
“People have a variety of opinions about which schools have too much money and not enough money, or they go to the ballot too often,” Asbury said. “But the reality is the school superintendents and board members I know, they really don’t want to be on the ballot, but in order to maintain quality programs they have to.”