Aug 26, 2008

Back to school, but not for free

This is a re-post from last year that we feel is still relevant, if not more relevant, today...

There is a long held myth in this county about the availability of a “free” public education. While it is true that many states have constitutions that require the availability of a free education, that is not true in all states. Ohio is one of the states that do not include specific constitutional language guaranteeing a free education.

In fact, Ohio goes a bit farther by actually having laws that permit schools to charge fees. Ohio simply regulates the type of fees schools can charge. It is therefore common for schools throughout the state to charge a “fee” of anywhere from $25 to $50 simply to attend school. Many schools also require that students bring in supplies ranging in cost from $10 to $50. These requests go far beyond simple paper, pencils, and crayons to include such items as tissue, plastic bags, and toilet paper. A family with two young children may have to pay as much as $200 to get their kids in the school door. This does not include the expense of school clothes, shoes or other personal items that a child may need.

While this expense is a hardship for many families, for some, it is a catastrophe. The truth is there are hundreds of thousands of families in Ohio whose income falls below $12,000 a year. For those families, $200 represents twenty percent of their income for the month. I wonder if folks with a household income of $60,000 per year would be so willing to accept such fees if they were being asked to pay $1,000 to send their children to public school?

Fees charged by schools have become a perfectly legal and acceptable form of taxation initiated at the hands of the local school boards with few limitations or restrictions. These fees are also an extremely regressive type of tax, one that hurts those children in families who are already having the greatest challenges succeeding in school. Poor families are dealing with the day to day crisis of meeting their basic needs at home. Items like food, clothing, shelter and transportation cannot be taken for granted in families living in the very lowest income levels.

It is these same children that already miss out on educational opportunities outside of school like vacations, educational toys and books. These same children are frequently precluded from participating in extra curricular activities in school. There are many people who are poor and are struggling every day just to get by. The last thing they need is another financial hurdle to overcome, just to have their children participate in the local public school.

All children should be able to attend school and participate in school activities without money in their pocket. The concept of universally available education is one of the absolute cornerstones of our democracy. Education is intended to level the playing field for underprivileged children.

Unfortunately, we are slowly but surely allowing one of our mainstream institutions, our public schools, to go the way of the “have versus have not.” To be sure, there are many schools that have chosen not to charge fees and have solved their financial problems without turning to this form of “taxation” on parents. Additionally, there are thousands of teachers who simply dig into their own pockets to help provide those supplies needed for children to participate in activities. All of this is unnecessary.

The average cost of education in Ohio’s K-12 schools is about $9,500 per child per year. The $100 collected in fees and supplies is roughly 1% of this amount. Perhaps the next increase in school funding could be targeted to eliminate school fees and pay for supplies. A “free” education would not be difficult to attain. The educational benefits to children in our society would be far greater than the minimal increase in funding that may be necessary to offset this loss of revenue.

Ohio needs to adopt the principle and practice of a free public education.

--Jack Frech, Director

Aug 21, 2008

Nothing is worse than doing nothing

According to national data, the foreclosure rate on mortgage loans has increased by more than 50% since 2000. How did this happen? Easier access to home loans, an increasingly fragile economy, and trigger events, such as loss of a job, reduction in income, or a health emergency cause mortgages to suddenly be beyond the financial abilities of many homeowners.

If facing mortgage issues, nothing is worse than doing nothing. According to recent industry studies, more than half of homeowners facing foreclosure do not call for help when they begin to fall behind on their payments. The early stages of foreclosure are the most crucial and require fast action by the borrow – studies show that homeowners who are one or two payments behind are more likely to keep their homes than those further behind on their payment schedule.

Homeowners at risk of foreclosure are urged to take the first steps to avoid losing their biggest investment and to keep their home equity: ask for help and respond to the lender’s letters and calls. The earlier financially distressed homeowners reach out for assistance, the more options they have to address their mortgage issues and potentially avoid foreclosure. Lenders are often willing to work with a borrower, if the borrower makes an effort early on.

Ignoring the situation will not make it go away. Seek help as soon as you think there may be a problem.

Tips to Save Your Home:

1. Call Ohio's Save the Dream Hotline today: 1-888-404-4674.

2. Contact your lender. Even if you have not missed a payment yet, talk to your lender if you see a problem arising. Many lenders are willing to work with homeowners. You may be able to create a repayment plan, add the missed payment to the remaining balance, or modify the loan.

3. Open and respond to all letters from your lender. The sooner you deal with missing mortgage payments, the easier it is to find a solution.

4. Seek help from state and local resources that can help you negotiate with your mortgage company. Find a list of local resources at or call 1-888-404-4674.

5. Document all contact with your lender.

6. Respond to summons in 28 days. If your loan servicer has filed a foreclosure complaint, you will receive a summons. You must respond, in writing, within 28 days! For assistance with a response or a referral, contact Southeastern Ohio Legal Services.

7. When faced with foreclosure, be sure you understand Ohio’s foreclosure process. Foreclosure may take anywhere from six months to more than a year.

8. Do not abandon your home. You do not have to leave your house until it it sold at a Sheriff’s sale. Continue to live in your house while you are trying to get help. If you abandon your property, you may not qualify for assistance.

9. Be aware of forclosure scams. Solutions sounding too good to be ture, usually are. Scam artists often target defendants named in foreclosure proceedings. They often assert that they are “foreclosure specialists” or “mortgage specialists,” claiming they will save your home from foreclosure in exchange for a sum of money.

10. Do not sign any document that you do not understand. Southeastern Ohio Legal Services can review documents that your lender may want you to sign to ensure that your best interests are protected.

Athens County Resources:

Athens County Job & Family Services
740-797-2523 or 1-800-762-3775
Provides basic foreclosure information and referrals. Prevention Retention and Contingency (PRC) program supplies short-term emergency assistance for income-eligible families.

Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development
Housing counselors are availabe to help with the foreclosure process. Rescue loans are available to help bring homeowners current on their mortgages.

Empowering and Strenthening Ohio’s People
Provides assistance in working out resolutions with mortgage service providers.

Southeastern Ohio Legal Services
Provides a range of free legal services to homeowners who meet the basic income eligibility.

State of Ohio Resources:

Save the Dream

Richard Cordray, Ohio Treasurer of State

Aug 7, 2008

Register to Vote

Monday, Oct 6, 2008 is the deadline to register to vote in the November General Election.
Register at any of our offices during normal business hours.
Download the voter registration form here.