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Some Skeptical About State of the State Plans

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 9:27 PM

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In his state of the state address yesterday Governor Ted Strickland made some bold proposals to revamp the state's public-education system, including lengthening the school year by a month and increasing state support for schools and continuation of a tuition freeze at the college level all while promising no new taxes at the state level. Some hailed it as “visionary” while others expressed skepticism because there were so few details on how the state would pay for the governor’s proposals. ideastream®’s Dan Bobkoff reports reaction here in Northeast Ohio.

Governor Strickland may have received applause and a standing ovation when he said there will be no new taxes in this down economy, but when the speech was over, there were questions. Rob Frost chairs the Cuyahoga County Republican Party.

FROST: I thought the tone the governor tried to set was hopeful, but looking at the numbers, I’m not finding them to add up, so I’d characterize it as wishful.

Frost doesn’t think the governor’s proposed spending cuts, and money from the federal stimulus bill will be enough to cover the state’s deficits and the governor’s new programs.

FROST: I’m not sure what else he’s going to cover that gap when he promises not to raise taxes.

Strickland did say some programs would be cut 10 to 20 percent but he gave no hint about which programs he’s talking about.  The governor did unveil his plan on how to improve teaching, something he calls “evidenced-based education.” That includes making it easier to fire weak teachers. The plan also includes making the school year longer…and that would cost more since teachers would likely have to be paid for those extra days.

Strickland also addressed the long-awaited solution he said he would come up with to overhaul the way schools are funded.  Under the proposal, the state government would pay nearly 60 percent of school costs, up from the current 55 percent.  West Geauga Schools Superintendent Dr. Tony Podojil liked that part of the speech. 

PODOJIL: Superintendents throughout the state have really worked hard to bring that to everyone’s attention so it was good to see that was certainly on his radar screen as something to work.

Under Strickland’s plan, the state would lower the real estate tax rate it expects local districts to collect and the state would make up the difference. That proposal alone could cost the state more than $750 million a year.

Still, Podojil wonders if that extra state assistance will be enough to cover all the new mandates and programs Strickland has in mind for schools.

And, Strickland wants to make it easier for property taxes to go up without voter approval.  He wants to change the law so that voters in any city can vote once to link property taxes to rising home values and then that would be permanent. But Medina City Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp, says it won’t be much help to local school districts in this economy.

STEPP: That’s assuming that there will be growth in property valuation. Here in Medina, our county auditor has notified us that we can expect flat to less than flat property valuation over the next three years.

Another objection is that the new state funding ..and control… will shift too much power away from the districts. Again, Republican county chairman, Rob Frost. 

FROST: Local control fosters creativity and learning. That has been a model that has worked. The funding structure is the part that hasn’t. The governor started out by promising no new taxes, but towards his conclusion, talked about taking away a provision in Ohio law that will now allow taxes to increase. Now maybe that’s needed or maybe it’s not but that is a tax increase he’s talking about.

Democratic House Speaker Armond Budish of Beachwood liked the governor’s speech and his plans, saying he was impressed that the governor even in these tight economic times still wants to “invest” in Ohio.

Many of the specifics of the governor’s education plan and budget cuts will be outlined in the coming weeks. As that happens, Tony Podojil of West Geauga hopes the proposals will evolve.

PODOJIL: I guess the challenge the governor will have is: how willing is he to bring all those stakeholders into that process, so that we make the best decision for the state of Ohio.

Northeast Ohioans might get a chance to give their feedback to the governor starting today, as he travels the state to promote his education reforms. He’ll be at Cleveland’s Louisa May Alcott Elementary School at midday.

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Education, Government/Politics

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