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Celeste Signature Sets Extensive Reforms in Motion

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Gov. Richard Celeste of Ohio has signed a far-reaching school-reform measure that provides for the state takeover of academically bankrupt districts, greater parental choice in school selection, an alternative route to teacher certification, and the creation of a new trust fund to support local improvement efforts.

Lawmakers approved the reform package earlier this summer along with a $26-billion, two-year budget that earmarks $6.7 billion for precollegiate education, an 18 percent increase over the previous biennium.

Other features of the reform law include the publication of annual "report cards" on districts' performance, diminished regulation of high-performing schools, a study of the state school-finance system, and mandatory kindergarten attendance.

No Losers or Winners

Education officials say the new law represents an amalgam of reforms proposed in the past year by a gubernatorial task force, two legislative commissions, and the state board of education.

"There were no real losers and winners in this budget," said Robert Moore, the state superintendent of public instruction. "Everybody's interests were served."

Marilyn Cross, president of theOhio Education Association and a member of the governor's task force, agreed with the school chief's assessment. "We're reasonably pleased with the way the bill turned out over all," she said.

"Success," said Carla Edlefson, the Governor's education aide, "was a result of bipartisan interest from the beginning."

Lawmakers rejected Governor Celeste's proposal to fund the reform package by raising the state's income and corporate-franchise taxes by 1 percent. Instead, they financed the proposals by using $340 million in unanticipated state revenues and the bulk of the state's $300-million budget surplus from fiscal 1988-89.

Ms. Edlefson said the Governor has not given up on his tax proposal, which he estimates would raise about $649 million in its first two years.

"People are still writing us letters saying that, 'For all the hullaballoo about education, we still have to ask for local tax increases,'" she said. "But then again, we would never really consider any amount enough for education," she added.

Trust Fund Created

The legislature, however, did retain Mr. Celeste's plan to create an Education Improvement Fund under the control of an independent panel.

The new $90-million trust fund will be operated by a commission that includes 10 state legislators, and representatives of the Governor, the state board of education, and the board of regents, which governs higher education in the state.

Leaders of the teachers' union, meanwhile, were pleased that the reform measure creates a bipartisan panel to study Ohio's school-funding system, which Ms. Cross said allows for gross spending disparities among districts.

The oea and other education organizations, however, did not support the law's parental-choice elements.

Under the measure, districts will be permitted to adopt open-enrollment policies within their own boundaries or in conjunction with adjacent systems. Ms. Cross said she was "willing to live with" the provision because it is voluntary and because choice programs initially will operate on a pilot basis only.

State To Monitor Performance

Most state education organiza8tions supported the law's provisions aimed at making schools more accountable to the public.

Under the law, the state will collect and publish data on district performance in an annual "report card."

The state board will also set performance standards for each district and will monitor its progress.

Districts that surpass the standards will be exempted from compliance with some state regulations. Educationally deficient districts will be required to develop "corrective-action plans," and could be taken over by the state if they fail to make adequate progress to meeting the standards.

The law also establishes a system of "internship certificates" for people who want to teach but have not completed a traditional teacher-training program.

Interns will be allowed to teach under supervision for up to six hours a week in areas in which they have some expertise. After one year, they may apply for a provisional certificate if they have completed 18 credit hours of education coursework and pass an exam and any other requirements established by the state board.

The law also contains a provision requiring districts to establish minimum standards for phonics instruction in grades 1 through 3, and to provide in-service training for teachers in the use of phonics. Districts, however, will not be required to use the phonics method in their reading courses.

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