Reconsider That "No" to Tax Hikes
Almost anyone who’s lived and voted in Ohio for a number of years will probably be quick to tell you that voting to increase your taxes sucks. Year after year, Ohioans are called upon by their city, county and state governments to willingly forgo a tiny portion of their yearly incomes in favor of what are clearly unpopular causes, such as ambulances or feeding the poor.
In Oberlin, it is no different. Multiple tax levies were on the ballot this November — two of which were for the school district alone. “But surely they have enough money?” I can hear (some of) you indignantly exclaim, “They did fine this year, why not next year as well?!” Too often is this mantra cried, and too often do voters listen and decide to refuse funds to Ohio schools, forcing the school systems to tighten their belts and hope for a better turnout in the next election.
Some of you may be wondering why we are forced to constantly repeat this familiar November ritual — and some of you may be wondering if school systems in Ohio are really so bad that they are reduced to begging voters for money year after year. Sadly, it is true — public education in Ohio has been broken for a long, long time, and for at least the near future, it doesn’t look like things are going to get better anytime soon.
There are a number of reasons why Ohio’s schools are in such a dilemma. One particularly big reason is named Senator George Voinovich. As a rising star in the Ohio state legislature in the 1970s, Voinovich helped rewrite Ohio laws such that local tax levies are no longer adjusted for inflation. As a result, as inflation raises basic operating costs over time, schools are forced to pass new levies just to maintain the same level of spending adjusted for inflation. Voinovich didn’t stop after he crippled Ohio schools, however; today he is a productive member of the United States Senate, pushing education initiatives such as school vouchers and charter schools, which help to damage schools not just in Ohio but in the entire country! Good job, George! But I digress.
A more fundamental problem to the state of Ohio’s public education funding system is the fact that the Ohio Supreme Court has declared that it’s unconstitutional. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, huh? The Court decided that, among other things, property taxes unfairly favored schools in wealthy areas (such as cities) over rural areas (such as Oberlin and other small towns). Places like Oberlin are particularly disadvantaged because nonprofit organizations (e.g. the College) own a lot of the surrounding land, which can’t be taxed. The state legislature made changes to this system to help fix some of the underlying problems in 1997, but judicial review has determined that the system is still unconstitutional. Meanwhile, while courts try sort the mess out, education in less urban areas continues to struggle.
Federal requirements of the “No Child Left Behind” Act have worsened the issue. One major problem is the inherent bias against mentally disabled children. Under the NCLBA, all children, mentally handicapped or not, are expected to perform at the same levels on mandated proficiency tests. Further, the NCBLA instituted a punitive funding system to withhold federal funds from schools whose average test scores fell. The problem? Once the NCBLA was passed, mentally handicapped children were averaged in with all the rest, and ALL THE AVERAGES FELL! This directly cut federal funding for schools across the board. How’s that for brilliant education policy, eh?
So when you see tax levies for schools such as Oberlin’s in the future, have a heart. Remember that they’re not coming to you to ask for money because they want to, they’re doing it because the Ohio public education system is fundamentally flawed. So vote for your school levies in the future, and remember that better schools are better for everyone. Except maybe George Voinovich. But he’s a problem for another day.