Ohio Panel Says Tax Hike Key to School-Improvement Plan

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Gov. Richard F. Celeste of Ohio has said he will seriously consider a blue-ribbon study group's proposal to increase the state income tax by 1 percent to help equalize spending among school districts and fund reform efforts.

The Education 2000 Commission, which was appointed by the Governor last year to evaluate Ohio's education system, is scheduled to release a report this week calling for the adoption of a far-ranging reform program to be underwritten by the tax increase.

A spokesman for the commission said the report, which has been circulated in draft form, will recommend a statewide open-enrollment plan similar to Minnesota's, the relaxation of state regulations in districts that improve student performance, and the establishment of state authority to take over substandard systems.

The reform proposals, however, have generated far less controversy than the panel's call for changes in the tax system.

Education officials note that Ohio voters traditionally have resisted tax increases, but they say they are hopeful that the report will make the public aware of the need for significant school reforms.

Local Tax Options Urged

The commission's draft report says that the 1 percent income-tax increase would raise an estimated $649 million, most of which would be earmarked for school-finance and instructional reform.

The draft also urges the adoption of constitutional amendments that would allow school districts' property-tax rates to increase automatically with the rate of inflation and permit districts to levy local income taxes.

An unprecedented number of Ohio districts were forced to seek emergency state loans this year following voter rejection of property-tax renewals.

Carla Edelefson, an assistant to the Governor, said Mr. Celeste would wait for three legislative committees currently studying education- and tax-reform issues to complete their work before adopting any recommendations. All three committees are expected to issue reports by the end of the year.

The Ohio Board of Education is also expected to make several recommendations on the same topics this week.

Michael Cohen, a spokesman for Superintendent of Public Instruction Franklin B. Walter, said the board's proposals would "be along the same lines" as the commission's report.

'Archaic and Inequitable'

In its draft report, the Education 2000 Commission called the state's education system "archaic and inequitable" and in dire need of reform.

Owen B. Butler, chairman of the commission and former chairman of the Procter & Gamble Company, said that if all of the panel's recommendations were adopted and fully funded in the next five to seven years, "we would have one of the best, if not the best, public-education system in the United States."

Marilyn Cross, president of the Ohio Education Association and a member of the commission, said the report had won the support of all of the state's major education groups because of its emphasis on reducing spending disparities among disel10ltricts. She noted that per-pupil spending across the state now ranges from less than $2,000 to more than $10,000.

Open Enrollment

Under the commission's open-enrollment recommendation, parents would be allowed to place their children in any district; state per-pupil funding would follow the student to his or her new school.

Ohio's school-funding formula currently provides property-poor districts with more per-pupil aid than richer systems. The report suggests that the open-enrollment plan would help even out spending disparities because the amount of state aid that would follow the student would be that of the sending district.

The plan also would allow high-school students to take college courses, with the college receiving a proportionate share of the student's per-pupil aid.

The draft report also recommends that:

The state test students in the 4th, 7th, and 11th grades as part of a broader school-accountability plan.

Test results--and other mea4surements of school performance, such as dropout and college-enrollment rates--would be used to develop "report cards" for each district.

Systems demonstrating improvement on the basis of those measurements would be relieved of certain state regulations. On the other hand, districts with persistently low scores would be subject to a state takeover.

High-quality preschool be made available at state expense to all disadvantaged 4-year-olds.

The expansion of programs for pregnant students and teenage mothers, both in regular and alternative schools.

An office be created within the department of education to stimulate partnerships among schools and local businesses.

The state establish an alternative teacher-certification program that could allow people without an education degree or relevant experience to enter the field.

The commission has asked the Governor to call for a special election in May, which would give voters the chance to address any proposed school-funding changes before the legislature's next budget session, which begins June 30.

Vol. 08, Issue 15

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