Ohio Striving for More Federal Education Money

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Ohio is scrambling to make more changes to its education system before a January deadline to better compete with other cash-hungry states for roughly $4.4 billion in additional federal education stimulus money.

Potentially complicating the state's efforts to compete is a political rivalry between two education-minded lawmakers who are running against each other in 2010 for the coveted position of Ohio secretary of state.

Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, believes Ohio is already well-positioned to compete for part of President Barack Obama's "Race to the Top" fund, thanks to teacher residency and training requirements, and curriculum changes, that were approved as part of the latest state budget.

State Sen. Jon Husted, a Kettering Republican, and Rep. Jennifer Garrison, a Marietta Democrat, are pushing for additional changes by a January 19 deadline to increase Ohio's chances of receiving the roughly $400 million it is eligible for under federal guidelines. But there is disagreement on the policy, and the politics behind the statewide race in 2010 come amid the backdrop of a House and Senate that have had difficulty working together for months.

Obama is dangling financial rewards in front of states that make systematic changes to their education system in line with his ideas of reform to boost student achievement and improve low-performing schools. Among those changes are lifting restraints on charter schools, using student test scores to help evaluate teacher performance, and establishing comprehensive data systems to track student performance over time.

Should it receive the money, Ohio could spend it on the ongoing implementation of the changes and on low-performing districts.

Only some states — possibly 10 to 20 — will get the money. The New Teacher Project, a national organization that promotes teacher quality, put Ohio in a grouping of 15 states it considers to be competitive for the federal funds. The group said two states were "highly competitive."

"I think we try to keep our application as positive as possible," Garrison said. "All states are trying to position themselves in the best way possible to meet their requirements to make their application more competitive."

The crux of Garrison's House proposal, which also has an identical companion in the Senate, would expand Ohio's data collection on student performance so that it extends into college instead of ending in high school. A comprehensive data system is one of the elements the Obama administration is looking for, according to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Husted's proposal in the Republican-controlled Senate focuses on two items that are often painful for Democrats and their teachers union allies, but are being trumpeted by Obama: lifting restrictions on charter schools and enabling student test scores to be a factor in evaluating teacher performance.

Husted's bill would require measures of student achievement, including tests, to be used in evaluating teachers for the state's new residency and licensing standards. It would also enable charter schools to be established in places besides Ohio's urban areas and in its lowest performing districts.

There is room for mixing and matching components of both bills. Both Husted and Garrison said politics and their 2010 campaign won't get in the way of the education changes.

"I don't view this as political," Garrison said. "This is my job. The Legislature has a responsibility to Ohio taxpayers to draw down as much federal dollars as we can."

Husted said neither the success nor failure of either lawmakers' education bill would impact the race to become Ohio's top elections official.

"No one is going to make their decisions on who they're voting for in 2010 on the basis of an education bill," Husted said.

Associated Press Writer Stephen Majors wrote this report

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