Paul R. Mort

From Ohio History Central

Paul R. Mort was born in 1894 in Elsie, Michigan. He graduated from Indiana University in 1916, and he spent the next six years teaching in Indiana and in Arizona. In 1922, he enrolled in Columbia University to earn his Masters degree. Upon graduating, Mort remained at this institution, teaching education classes. He emerged as one of the principal experts on educational funding in the United States from the 1920s to the 1950s. Mort served on numerous commissions seeking ways to improve school funding and was an outspoken critic of state and the federal governments for not enhancing funding for education.

During the Great Depression, public schools in Ohio faced a financial crisis. Most schools received their funding through property taxes. Many Ohioans failed to pay their taxes because of the difficult economic times. As a result of people's failure to pay their taxes, schools had less money to pay educational expenses. Exacerbating the situation, Ohio voters limited taxes on real estate to ten mills, further reducing the funds available to public schools.

In 1932 the Ohio educational officials requested that Paul Mort draft an evaluation of school funding in the state. Mort determined that Ohio relied too heavily on property taxes. This funding system, according to Mort, did not guarantee all Ohio children a quality education, because some districts had higher real estate values than did others. Children in districts with higher property values, in theory, would receive more money than those children in poorer districts. Mort also criticized the Ohio system because school funding, for the most part, was up to local school boards. He called for increased state involvement in the funding process.

To prevent the financial collapse of the public school system in Ohio, the state legislature implemented the School Foundation Program Law in 1935. This law guaranteed every school that had at least 180 students $22.50 for each kindergarten student, forty-five dollars for each elementary school pupil, and $67.50 for each high school student. If these schools offered part-time or evening classes, the schools were to receive forty-six dollars for each of these students. Schools with less than 180 students were guaranteed more money per student than the schools with more than 180 students. One-room schoolhouses would receive $1150.00, while two-room schools would receive $2400.00. The legislature required each school district to enact a property tax of at least three mills to try and meet at least thirty-two percent of the funding requirements for each student. The state was to provide the remaining sixty-eight percent from its own funds, primarily from the State Sales Tax of 1935. If a school could not meet its thirty-two percent requirement, the state government, at the discretion of director of education, would provide additional funding. The School Foundation Program Law greatly improved education in Ohio. Despite Mort's objections, the new system continued to rely on property taxes, but now the state legislature guaranteed school districts adequate funds to educate students, especially during the difficult financial times of the Great Depression.

Mort continued to play an active role in educational and funding issues. He retired from Columbia University in 1959, although he continued to serve in an advisory capacity on numerous boards and commissions. He died on May 12, 1962.

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