Ohio Governor Calls for Education Changes

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Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland today proposed sweeping changes to public education, including an overhaul of the state’s school funding, expansion of the school year by 20 days, elimination of the high school graduation test in favor of requiring all students take the ACT college-entrance test, and steps to improve teacher quality.

“It is absolutely clear to me that simply tinkering with centuries-old education practices will not prepare Ohio’s children for success in college, in the workplace, or in life,” Gov. Strickland told state legislators in his annual State of the State speech in Columbus. “When we do these things, I believe we will have finally and unquestionably met our constitutional obligation to our children.”

The governor said he won’t call for raising taxes, but warned of sacrifice as government programs are reduced and a variety of fees are increased to balance a $50 billion state budget that faces a $7 billion deficit amid an economic recession and declining tax revenues.

Gov. Strickland, a Democrat who received strong support from teachers’ unions during his 2006 campaign, also proposed a four-year residency training program for teachers, similar to what doctors undergo, at the end of which a teacher would receive a professional license.

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Read more from our updated collection of “2009 State of the States.”

And he proposed making it easier for school administrators to fire bad teachers.

“Right now, it’s harder to dismiss a teacher than any other public employee,” Mr. Strickland said. “Under my plan, we will give administrators the power to dismiss teachers for good cause, the same standard applied to other public employees.”

Patricia Frost-Brooks, the president of the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, applauded what she termed the governor’s “bold” leadership. “These are certainly some seismic shifts in the way that we’re going to fund teaching and learning in the state of Ohio,” she said.

At the same time, Ms. Frost-Brooks said the union would be eager to see greater details on some of the governor’s proposals, such as the creation of a 200-day school year and the residency program.

“We’re going to continue to work with him,” she said.

Long-Awaited Proposal

The governor’s education plan comes in the wake of a series of forums he held around the state last year to solicit ideas on how to improve school quality and revise how Ohio pays for public education. ("Ohio Governor Listens on K-12—But Action Awaits," Aug. 13, 2008.)

The Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that Ohio’s system of relying on property taxes to pay for schools is unconstitutional because it creates disparities between rich and poor districts.

Gov. Strickland, who will release his budget and full details of his spending plan Feb. 2, told lawmakers his plan would take the state’s share of education funding to 55 percent, an amount that would grow to 59 percent once the plan was completely implemented. It also would dramatically reduce the number of school districts that need to return to voters annually to ask for more money, he said.

Republicans pegged the cost at $750 million annually. The state budget director, Pari Sabety, confirmed the approximate figure but declined to discuss how the state would pay for it.

The governor’s education plan also would require districts to be audited by the state Department of Education to determine how well they’re meeting state academic standards. It would let the state take control of districts that don’t comply with new state academic and operating standards and replace district leaders.

The governor also would require the state to begin offering universal, all-day kindergarten and is proposing a tuition freeze in 2010 for Ohio’s four-year public colleges, with the 2011 increase not to exceed 3.5 percent.

Vol. 28, Issue 20

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