Wednesday, October 22, 2003

School funding appeal unheard

U.S. high court ends legal fight

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear school districts' appeal of Ohio's long-running lawsuit over the funding of schools, quietly ending a legal fight that led the state to spend billions of extra dollars on schools over the past decade.

The court Monday without comment denied a request by Coalition for Equity & Adequacy in School Funding to file a federal appeal of the lawsuit filed in 1991.

The coalition's leader called the decision devastating and promised to keep the funding issue alive in state courts.

"Today's decision cannot mark the end of the fight for justice for Ohio's schoolchildren," said William Phillis, the coalition's executive director.

Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, said the decision ends the 12-year-old case but Ohio's school-funding system needs to be improved. A committee he created to examine the system is expected to recommend changes next year.

In May, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 5-2 to end the case and ordered state officials to fix the system, but then gave up jurisdiction and blocked any further action in the state court system.

The coalition of about 500 schools wanted the U.S. high court to order the state Supreme Court to reopen the case so lawmakers could be forced to fix the system.

The court ruled three times in five years that the state's educational system was unconstitutional because it created disparities between rich and poor districts.

The lack of a means to enforce those rulings, rather than specifics about Ohio's funding system, was the main issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Following the state Supreme Court's first ruling, lawmakers created the Ohio School Facilities Commission to rebuild and renovate Ohio schools. From 1998 through the end of this year, Ohio lawmakers will have made more than $3.5 billion available for school construction.

During the last two-year budget, Taft and lawmakers included an additional $1.4 billion in spending on education because of the court's rulings.

The state is spending about $7.15 billion on schools this year, an increase of about 2.3 percent.

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