OFFBEAT: Is school funding really the problem?

I've heard so much about Ohio's school funding crisis, I started to wonder just how badly Ohio teachers are paid. Is this state litt
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

 

I've heard so much about Ohio's school funding crisis, I started to wonder just how badly Ohio teachers are paid. Is this state little better than my home state, Oklahoma, where teacher pay constantly stands at or near the bottom of the 50 states?

According to the National Education Association, Ohio teacher pay is better than the vast majority of the 50 states.

According to the NEA's "Ranking of the States 2006 and Estimates of School Statistics 2007," released in December 2007, the average salary for public school teachers in Ohio in 2005-2006 was $50,314 a year.

That ranks Ohio 14th among the 50 states. The national average, the NEA says, was $49,026.

That doesn't sound so bad.

If we accept for the sake of argument the premise that maybe Ohio has bigger problems than paying for public education, then discussion can begin on what the state's biggest problems are.

Here are a couple of ideas: High unemployment and high taxes.

Unemployment during Gov. Ted Strickland's administration consistently has been above the national average (just as it was during the Taft administration).

In May, the state unemployment rate hit 6.3 percent (compared to 5.5 percent nationally). The state's jobless rate in May was the highest it has been since July 2003. In May 2007, Ohio's unemployment rate was 5.6 percent.

The governor's reaction to this has been to sign a bill to throw thousands of people out of work.

The bill's ostensible purpose is to cap the annual interest rate on "payday" short term loans at 28 percent. In reality, it's a bill to abolish the industry. Unless the law is somehow overturned, the governor's signature will leave 6,000 Ohio residents unemployed.

What about taxes?

According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, Ohio ranked 5th among the 50 states in 2007 in the size of the state's state and local tax burden. The only states ahead of us are Vermont, Maine, New York and Rhode Island.

In 1970, the state ranked 47th. Since then, Democrats and Republicans in Ohio have been diligent in making sure that our tax burden is second to almost none.

Another way of putting it is that local and state taxes in Ohio took away 8.2 percent of your income in 1970 and now they take away 12.4 percent. I guess that's where the money comes from that keeps Ohio teachers so well paid.

Even as unemployment in Ohio grows and state tax revenues suffer, the governor has sought to protect education from budget cuts. To do so, he's had to slash spending in just about every other area of state government. He's shutting down two state mental hospitals. Despite the governor's promise to make tourism in Ohio a priority, the state history museum in Columbus is open only four days a week. Even during the summer tourist season, it's shut down on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

In Erie County, the award-winning Child Support Enforcement Unit had to lay off several workers a few weeks ago after state funding was cut. The unit is trying to regroup, but it will be difficult to collect the money that's needed for children in cash-strapped families.

So where, exactly, is the money going to come from for the governor's reform plan?

When he's already been slashing funding for state programs, where is he obtain a hike in state funding for public education without raising taxes? The answers to these questions have been put on hold, but the governor says he'll get back to us some time next year.