Columbus educators call for an end to tax abatements for developers
Hundreds of Columbus teachers gathered Wednesday at Goodale Park before marching to protest the city’s tax abatement policies.
At the march, while waving signs and flags, the crowd chanted, “Keep our students safe and healthy, no more tax breaks for the wealthy."
Members of the Columbus Education Association (CEA) said it's time for the city to make companies pay their entire property tax bill so kids in city schools can get the most robust education possible.
Eastmoor Academy High teacher Regina Fuentes said the tax abatements take money away from the resources provided for schools.
She sites data compiled by the teachers’ union, which is in the midst of contract negotiations.
A fact sheet states students in “more than a dozen schools still don’t have air conditioning,” meanwhile the “value of tax abatements depleting the Columbus City Schools budget has risen more than 300%.”
And, the CEA states three abatements in 2021 cost schools $2.2 million.
“The problem here is that they give these large corporations, these huge tax abatements which actually take large amounts of money away from Columbus City Schools,” Fuentes said.
The teachers marched downtown to the offices of three companies that have benefitted from the tax breaks recently.
Thrive Companies, Kaufman Development and the Pizzuti Companies did not immediately respond to WOSU’s requests for comments.
Fuentes said the revenue the school districts do not get because of abatements make it more difficult for the district to provide a solid education to students.
“When you start adding that up and putting that all together, it really does hurt our students,” she said.
The city of Columbus has defended the tax abatement policy, which is under review for reforms.
The city said abatements are a “tool to encourage businesses to make capital investments and create new jobs for the community.” The city also said that once the abatement expires, usually after 10 to 15 years, the taxes are adjusted to the appropriate amount for the value of improvements made to the property. The city claims the abatements don’t affect 100% of the collections on the improvements developers make, just 75%.
The city said that’s not revenue the schools are actively losing, just revenue increases they aren’t seeing. The city also said it has paid out $15.312 million in income tax revenue sharing, in lieu of the taxes, over a 10-year period.
But Fuentes said for students to thrive, the school’s resources should be growing in line with the growth of the city, and sharing the income tax isn’t enough.
"We get money, but no, it doesn't even equal the amount of money that's lost. And that's what really hurts our kids,” Fuentes said.
The union shared figures showing the abatements have stacked up every year since 2015, hitting $51 million in unseen collections in 2021 alone.
Fuentes said every corporation in Columbus should have an interest in fully funding education, because it uplifts the entire community.
“I think they do have a responsibility, because they should want to be in partnership with the schools, because the schools are the foundation of their companies and their future workers and their future families,” she said. “They should want to be in partnership and want to make sure that the schools are the very best coming in, because then it's going to help us recruit the best workers. It is just all around best for everybody.”