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Does the state need a funding deadline?

Associated press Published: March 10, 1998 12:00 AM

COLUMBUS _ A group that claims lawmakers have taken too long and come up short in an effort to revamp Ohio's public school funding methods says a judge should hold the state to a court-ordered deadline.

"It looks to me like the state has created a crisis and now is asking the court to bail it out," said William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding.

The group asked Perry County Common Pleas Judge Linton Lewis Jr. to reject an extension last week, arguing that the state's aim was simply to delay the process and avoid the March 24 deadline imposed by the Ohio Supreme Court.

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The state warned Monday that some schools may not be able to stay open past March 24 if Lewis refuses to extend the deadline. The state wants the date pushed back to July 1, an idea Phillis' group is opposed to.

"If the state understood the old laws would die March 24, which is what the court said, then the state should have had a plan in place," he said.

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State Solicitor State Solicitor Jeffrey Sutton said in the motion filed Monday that holding the deadline could ultimately shut down some schools.

"The expiration of the March 24 deadline arguably means that the state has no current mechanism for the distribution of funds," Sutton said.

"Many school districts will not be able to complete the academic year if state funding is interrupted."

Lewis declared Ohio's system of paying for schools unconstitutional in 1994. Last year, the state Supreme Court upheld the decision, set the deadline and put Lewis in charge of overseeing the state's remedy.

The court gave lawmakers one year to come up with a system that relies less on property taxes and deals with gaps in per-pupil spending in different districts.

Lewis said he would rule on the extension request this week.

The state asked for the delay to give voters the chance to decide in the May 5 primary whether to increase the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent. The tax increase would raise $1.1 billion a year, which would be evenly split between education and residential property tax relief.

Lawmakers sent the issue to the ballot after adopting education reforms. Newly passed laws raise graduation requirements, require districts to be financially responsible, increase the amount the state guarantees in per-pupil spending and provide more money to poor districts for all-day kindergarten, lower class sizes and building repairs and replacement.

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