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More Money From The State? Probably Not.

Here's our Cliffnotes version of past attempts to sue the state for more school funding. (1991-2003)

  • The clause in the Ohio constitution that’s being challenged is Article 6, section 2​ and requires a thorough and efficient system of common schools. The definition of that is wide open for interpretation and nothing is said about dollar amounts.

  • Over the course of 11.5 years, a coalition of Ohio schools successfully sued the state for failure to make the system thorough and efficient and won, repeatedly.

  • The judicial branch, though, has no ability to enforce anything. They can only interpret the law. The Ohio Supreme Court interpreted that the Ohio constitution required necessary funding to support the students and should allow for similar outcomes across the board. Their assertion is that the state should provide greater school funding itself and that reliance on local tax bases to fund education will ALWAYS be inadequate due to unavoidable economic disparities.

  • Enforcement of laws is the jurisdiction of the governor and legislature, who continue to ignore those rulings and retain a system that shortchanges EVERY student financially due to its refusal to better fund education as a whole. On the surface, their tactic of funneling money to poorer districts seems altruistic, but in reality it isn’t helping as much as is necessary to be ‘thorough and efficient’. The poor districts aren’t really doing any better and the wealthier districts are feeling the squeeze of bearing so much more of the financial burden for their area.

  • Suing the state has been done. There was even an attempt to have it heard before the US Supreme court that was denied. Expecting a lawsuit to force the state to change their ways is like expecting a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The ONLY way to affect change in school funding is to vote into office candidates that see the overall value of education and are willing to enthusiastically fight to change the laws/budget regarding school funding in the legislative branch itself.

  • There is more current information on the topic, but this post is long enough so we’ll get to it in another one.

Want the full version? Well, let us tell you the saga of DeRolph VS the State. It’s an epic tale of tenacity and political maneuvering. A few prerequisite pieces information are:

  • The Plaintiffs are the Coalition of Ohio schools.

  • The Defendants are the Ohio General Assembly (Governor, House, and Senate), predominantly Republican at the time.

  • The Ohio Constitution was ratified in 1851 and contains a clause that calls for the state to secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools. This can be found in Article 6, Section 2.

  • How the branches of government work matters here. Remember the legislative branch makes the laws, the judicial branch interprets and evaluates the laws, and the executive branch carries out the laws.

With these things in mind, let’s get started with a little backstory. Before this all began, the only folks to ever interpret what ‘thorough and efficient’ meant were the people responsible for writing the laws that the term applies to. In other words, thorough and efficient meant whatever the governor/legislature defined the cost of education to be, regardless of whether it reflected reality. 

In the mid-1980’s, a group of low-income rural school districts got together to fund a study that looked into what the reality of a thorough and efficient school system looked like versus what the government said it did. There were many other studies focusing on this topic concluded between 1976 (remember this is when HB 920 went into effect) and 1992, but this specific one became the rallying point for the state’s schools. The results of the all studies, in one way or another, came to the same conclusion. Ohio was not funding its schools in an equitable or adequate way.

This is where the Coalition comes into play. With the report of their study in hand, the schools banded together and pooled their resources in order to legally force Ohio’s General Assembly to correct the situation. They wanted the state to bring the education funding levels to a point where the Constitution’s ‘thorough and efficient’ clause was met. In other words, they wanted every school district, regardless of the poverty level, to be able to provide the attending students with the same level of education and opportunities.

They fought this battle through 2 trial court hearings and 4 Supreme Court hearings over the course of 11.5 years. They even petitioned the US Supreme Court but it was denied. Here is the time-line and general explanation of the Ohio schools’ attempts to get more funding from the State.

The first Round...Redolph V State 1 - 

  • The Coalition filed its complaint against the state on December 11, 1991.

  • In the fall of 1993, nearly 2 years later, there was an 8-week trial, with Perry County Commons Judge Linton Lewis Jr. presiding.

  • Almost another year later on July 1, 1994 Judge Lewis ruled that the schools were right. He ordered the state BOE and superintendent to research how to fix the situation, which they did, but their report never went anywhere because…

  • The state appealed the decision at the Supreme Court level and the case wouldn’t be heard again until early 1997.

  • As a side note, the State BOE didn’t agree with the decision to appeal and it got them in pretty hot water with then Governor Voinovich. In the intervening years he went so far as to try and change the laws so that he could appoint board members rather than let them be elected. He also led a pretty strong smear campaign about all things related to the schools and the county courts.

  • On March 24, 1997 the Ohio Supreme Court came back with “All the facts documented in the record lead to one inescapable conclusion – Ohio’s elementary and secondary public schools are neither thorough nor efficient.” They ruled that a ‘complete systematic overhaul’ happen and ‘and an entirely new school financing system’ be put into place that would ensure ALL schools are on even footing, as the Constitution requires, regardless of their local poverty levels.

  • This further upset the General Assembly. They’d expected to win, because the Republicans held the majority, even in the Supreme Court. They were VERY unhappy that the judicial branch was telling them how to do their jobs. It was their belief that the judicial branch had no jurisdiction over how school funding was implemented, so much so that they attempted to replace justices with those who would ‘toe the party line’.

  • The Supreme Court sent the matter back to the County Court for enforcement. The trial court then listened to the Defendant’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Aug/Sept of 1998.

  • On Feb. 26, 1999 the trial court judge again declared that the system in place to be unconstitutional.

  • The state’s response was to hire an expert to determine what the per-pupil cost was, alter that expert’s formula to create a lower per-pupil cost which would be phased in, and keep in place the current funding method of ‘residual budgeting’ which is essentially a fancy way of saying create a stockpile, work through the stockpile (the residual), and then go after money again when the stockpile is depleted.

On to the next round...Derolph VS State 2 –

  • So the school’s kept fighting. They took it back to the Ohio Supreme Court.

  • On May 11, 2000 the Ohio Supreme Court ruled again that the system was still unconstitutional. This time, they even went so far as to list out specific areas that really needed to be addressed.

  • The current method’s reliance on property taxes must be reevaluated. There is no way to create a uniformly funded school system using a tax base that has an inherent inequality.

  • The cost per pupil formula may not reflect reality and needs to be reexamined, as does the way it is implemented.

  • There must be a way to ensure that all school facilities are adequate and on par with one anther and the current requirement that local areas pass levies before the state assistance needs to be reconsidered.

  • The school rainy day funds need to only be for rainy days and should not be used because the schools need extra funding assistance.

  • Certain school unfunded mandates that require a school go to its tax base or dip into its rainy day fun to pay for need to be state funded.

  • Strict, statewide academic guidelines need to be developed and followed throughout the state.

  • The General Assembly was no happier about the Court’s decision than they had been about the first one, however Governor Taft and the legislative leaders handled it with more grace and then promptly ignored most of it.

  • In March 2001, Representative Larry Householder asked the Coalition to work with him to find a resolution to the school funding litigation. They did but both Governor Taft and the Senate president rejected it.

  • In the spring of that same year, during state budget deliberations, the General Assembly reworked the formula for per-pupil base cost and it was clear they were trying to lower it further. Not only that but they did nothing to address any of the other issues defined by the court.

Third Try...Derolph VS State 3 –

  • By June, they were back to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Defendants claimed that their new method made the system better than thorough and efficient, while the plaintiffs pointed out all the unresolved issues and that the new formula was designed in such a way as to lower how much the state had to pay toward education and shift more of the cost onto the local districts.

  • There was an attempt to compromise made here. The courts insisted that this was a judicial matter but relinquished their previous insistence on a complete systematic overhaul. They also ordered alterations be made to the base cost calculations, agreeing that if the changes are implemented they’ll agree to the system being constitutional.

  • The state response was to say they didn’t have the funds and to file a motion for reconsideration on Nov. 2, 2001.

  • On Nov, 16, 2001 the court went so far as to order the parties to a mediation table. Going into it, Governor Taft asserted that the system was nearly constitutional and only required a few more tweaks. The Coalition, on the other hand, vehemently disagreed.

  • The Settlement Conference ended on March 20, 2002. Nothing had been resolved.

Final Push...Derolph VS State 4 – 

  • So they went back to court.

  • The compromise of Derolph 3 was thrown out and on December 11, 2002 the Supreme Court returned to the decisions of Derolph 1&2 that ‘the state defendants enact a school-funding scheme that is thorough and efficient, as explained (in previous decisions), and the accompanying concurrences.’ Essentially, ‘get with the program you guys. You have to find a state level way of paying for education that makes sure all the students are offered a truly equal and adequate education no matter the economic barriers of their communities.

  • The Supreme Court then sent the matter back to the Perry County Common Pleas Court to be executed.

  • The Plaintiffs filed for a Compliance conference to work out the details of how the State will do what the Supreme Court ordered.

  • The State’s response was to have the Attorney General file a writ of Prohibition with the Supreme Court to stop the Compliance conference.

  • On May 16, 2003 the Supreme Court ruled on the writ. Their decision was that yes, the system in place was unconstitutional but it was state government’s responsibility to fix it. Then they dismissed the case and ended their jurisdiction, meaning they were done. It had proven that no matter how many times a ruling was made to enact changes in how Ohio schools were funded, that the courts did not have the ability to enforce those changes, so what was the point of continuing the legal battles.

  • Not willing to give up yet, in August of 2003, the Coalition filed a petition with the US Supreme Court. In October of 2003, that was denied.


Here's the resource we used to simplify the timeline. They were on a website that required membership to access and rather than send you there, we took screenshots. For the sake of transparency, we want you to note that the director of the Coalition wrote this document in 2005. It is presented from the perspective of the schools. However, the dates, court outcomes, and referenced public statements in the brief are a matter of recorded public fact.

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