New challenges for public school funding

student-desk.svg.medLocal Coalitions Grapple with New Challenges 20 Years after Landmark Case 
By Megan Fair
20 years have passed since the first lawsuits were launched in Ohio to achieve equity in state-funded education. Administrator Cindy Hartman and lawyer Bill Phillis spent time in the thick of it, watching the state grapple with reinventing the funding model. Now charter schools pose a threat to already disenfranchised schools
A Coalition for Change
Natural light from a tall corner window bathes Cindy Hartman’s office. Piles of papers and
folders dot her desk, and a colorful map of Ohio hangs on the wall.
Hartman spent 36 years educating and holding administrative roles in rural and Appalachian schools in Southeastern Ohio. For someone who retired in 2008 from her position as superintendent of Southern Local Schools in Perry County, Hartman’s surroundings communicate business.
Hartman now works as associate director of the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools(CORAS), an organization composed of superintendents from 32 counties who gather once a month to tackle the problems facing their school districts.“Many of these families [in these districts] don’t have very much, so kids come to school not ready to learn,” Hartman says. “It’s the school’s work to catch them up, and then to support the things they just don’t have access to at home.” 
Such is the challenge for what the state legislators refer to as “low resource” schools,
characterized by traits such as their low economic base or minimal access to cultural experiences like plays or concerts.
The Rumblings of a Revolution
When CORAS was established in 1988 its goal was advocating for and supporting the continuing improvement of public school education. The members of CORAS collaborated with educators statewide to form another team for student advocacy, the Ohio Coalition for Equity &Adequacy of School Funding (OCEASF), with a specific vision in mind.
The OCEASF planned to sue the state for its property tax based school funding model, as it greatly disadvantaged already underprivileged students.
In 1991, the coalition filed a lawsuit against the state of Ohio in the name of Perry County resident and then 15-year-old student Nathan DeRolph and argued the funding model for public education was unconstitutional. In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in its favor, writing
“…property taxes can no longer be the primary means of providing the finances for a thoroughand efficient system of schools.” The battle continued in appeals until 2003, when the courtruled that it was the legislature’s job to fix the funding model.
Changes and Challenges
Bill Phillis has been the executive director of the OCEASF since 1992 when the DeRolph case
was first taking shape. He’s paid close attention to the attempts made to rectify the state’s
educational funding model since the initial DeRolph decision.
“To the state’s credit, in 1997 [after the conclusion of the DeRolph case] they put together aschool facilities committee,” Phillis says. That group used a tobacco tax windfall to invest in
constructing new school buildings.
“Thanks to DeRolph, there are over 1000 new school buildings,” Phillis says. “This was an
important moment, because a congressional study at the time showed Ohio had the worst public school buildings in the nation.” 
Although many public school facilities have improved, the existing funding model for academic expenses remains problematic. It is not entirely dependent on property taxes and property values, but those elements are still factored into funding decisions.
Further complicating funding models is the advent of charter schools paired with the push for standardized testing, which Phillis cites as a perfect storm of inconvenience for students and teachers.
Phillis and Hartman both cite charter schools, as charter schools pull funding away from public education. This disproportionately affects schools who already can’t afford to lose the money.
“Some of these schools can’t afford a guidance counselor or social worker. There’s a growing drug problem in these counties, and some schools don’t have the resources to help students grapple with what they’re seeing at home,” Hartman says.Beyond the StruggleBut while the funding model may be broken, the fight for equity in education exists largely outside the classroom walls.
“Despite the challenges these districts face, when you observe a classroom and see the teachers interacting with their students, magic is happening,” Hartman says with a hopeful
smile.
No doubt it is such images that keep individuals like Hartman and Phillis motivated 25 years and counting.