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Ohio Governor's School-Aid Plan Meets Opposition

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Gov. George V. Voinovich's plans to fix inequities in Ohio's school-funding system are running headlong into opposition from state education leaders--and from some of the districts he is trying to help.

In the weeks before and after Mr. Voinovich unveiled his budget last month, three different groups of school officials and researchers released guidelines for a new funding system. The three plans echoed each other, but struck an entirely different chord than the Governor's.

All this activity follows a July court ruling that the state's school-financing scheme is unconstitutional. (See Education Week, July 13, 1994.)

Hearings on an appeal ordered by Mr. Voinovich begin this spring.

In the meantime, the Governor proposed as part of his budget that inequities be addressed through changes in the aid formula. One proposed shift, for example, would redirect to low-wealth districts $32.5 million that now goes to schools in the wealthy parts of the state.

In the past, Mr. Voinovich has sought to ameliorate disparities in district funding largely by supplementing the state-aid formula with outside revenues and resources.

But in his State of the State address last month, Mr. Voinovich said that he was proposing changes in the formula "because I want our low-wealth districts to be assured that this additional support is permanent--we're putting it in concrete."

Mr. Voinovich also proposed asking voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution calling for a $1 billion bond issue to finance school repairs in low-wealth districts.

District Backlash

But many of the districts Mr. Voinovich proposes to help are not thrilled with his plan, said William L. Phillis, the executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, a group representing the more than 500 districts who are plaintiffs in the finance suit.

Mr. Phillis called the reallocation plan a "Robin Hood" scheme that threatens many districts with excellent programs. "Instead of having disparities," he said, "Ohio would have equalized mediocrity."

Many relatively wealthy districts--some of those that would lose aid under the Governor's plan--have joined with Mr. Phillis's group in opposing it. The Governor should work to increase aid to all districts and not simply divvy up the money a different way, said Jim Betts, the lawyer for the 52 districts organized as the Alliance for Adequate School Funding.

In a position paper released last month, the two groups of districts joined with state associations representing school boards and administrators in calling for a cost-based analysis of schools' needs.

"We wanted to go on the record that the system needs more total resources," Mr. Betts said.

The state board of education hit some of the same notes in its budget proposal to the Governor, which recommended increasing education spending by $1.3 billion over the next two years. Like the two school groups, the board called for a cost-based determination of per-pupil state aid. School-finance experts working for the state board set such a cost at $4,350 per pupil, $1,300 more than current average spending levels.

Aides to Governor Voinovich countered criticism of his plan by arguing that the increased education spending he proposes--$441 million over two years--is just a start. The spending increases proposed in other plans are not politically possible, said R. Gregory Brown, the Governor's budget director.

"I just don't think that you'll find any state support for new state taxes for billions of dollars, which is what they're talking about," he said.

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