Back when Ohio’s system of funding education was ruled unconstitutional in the mid-1990s, I wrote about it for a local alternative weekly. There were astonishing stories about what poverty meant to education statewide — like the one about a rural school building that sat on a hillside, its foundation slowly slipping over a gas main. Many other country schools were dangerous, some with less dramatic-sounding health risks like peeling paint and bad plumbing. Resources like libraries were woefully out of date, often housed in bookmobiles or on-site trailers with little or no new material.
In our cities, structures were falling apart and creating potential health problems for their students. It was going to take billions of dollars just to bring the buildings in our poorest districts up to code, let alone begin to improve the quality of education to help students in those areas succeed.
In the time since, the ruling was upheld through appeals and lawmakers have wrangled with new funding structures, but the system remains broken. Our Governor Ted Strickland, who has made education reform one of his signature issues, is preparing to unveil his own plan early next year. I’m anxious to find out what he’s set to overhaul, especially when it comes to this long-standing, fundamental problem.
This is school funding awareness week, so School Funding Matters is promoting a letter-writing campaign to the media and state representatives. They have lots of good background information about school funding’s history and current conditions on the web site, so check them out.
(This initiative comes from KnowledgeWorks Foundation, which recently published a lengthy piece I wrote about education reform at Brookhaven High School that you can download here – more to come on that later.)