Mar 27, 2024 - News

Ohio school levies are falling flat

Illustration of a smashed apple on a ballot checkbox.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

It's getting harder to convince Ohio voters to pay for schools.

The big picture: Voters rejected almost every new operating levy proposed on last week's ballots.

  • And they're increasingly reluctant to renew operating levies — existing funding that has historically been an easier sell at the ballot box.

Why it matters: Local districts say the denials will force them to take undesirable steps to balance their budgets, such as increasing class sizes.

By the numbers: Only three of 16 new operating levies on the ballots across Ohio this year passed, per statistics tracked by public policy researcher Howard Fleeter of Fleeter & Associates.

  • That's a 19% passage rate, down from 25% last year. Historically, 37% of new operating levies passed over the past 30 years, per Fleeter.
  • Renewals of existing operating levies also struggled to pass — Fleeter said just 65% of renewal levies passed last week, down from 79% last year and an average of 85% over the past 30 years.

Zoom in: All seven school funding levies on ballots last week in central Ohio failed.

  • According to unofficial results from county boards of elections, opposition ranged from a high of around 75% for the Teays Valley Local levy to 55% for the Fairbanks Local levy.

Between the lines: School officials are blaming, in part, a historic increase in property assessments last year.

  • For voters in rural counties, that can lead to a comparatively steeper spike in property tax bills because local school districts are already at the 20-mill minimum school assessment required by the state.

What they're saying: Fleeter also suspects a longer-running trend of "levy fatigue" motivated voters' decisions.

  • "Districts in most places have to go on the ballot every three to five years just to keep pace with inflation," he said. "But levy after levy creates fatigue and a feeling among voters that, didn't we just vote on this?"

What we're watching: Local school districts say they're still processing last week's defeats.

  • Olentangy Local Schools in Delaware County, which saw 63% of voters oppose its levy proposal last week, had told voters it needed new operating and facility funding because it anticipates adding 5,000 new students over the next 10 years.
  • "There are many questions on how this decision impacts current attendance boundaries, the construction and opening of new schools, and the timing of a future levy and bond ask," the district said in a statement.
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