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Governor Still Searching For Equitable Funding Solution For Ohio Schools

Governor Strickland got elected on what now seems like a foolhardy boast. He said if he couldn't fix schools by his first term he'd be a failed governor. And with time now running out, he's not ready to hedge -- at least not on the timetable.

Strickland: "Well the people of Ohio will decide whether or not I've done a good job, but my plan is to in the first quarter of next year to present a proposal to the legislature."

Last summer the governor traveled the state, asking citizens what reforms they wanted in their schools. Now he's scheduled six forums to see how they want to pay for them. The plan will include some things he's been talking about even before the forums. Expect pilot programs first that experiment with both extended class hours and a longer school year. He also wants to place new teachers with master "mentor" teachers. And, he says …

Strickland: "Not everything I propose will be free of controversy"

The feature with the most potential for controversy is a sliding scale method called weighted funding - or what opponents call the Robin Hood plan. This method is used to some degree now, but Strickland indicates his new plan will extend that program or revamp it.

Strickland: "There does seem to be recognition that some weighted system of funding is appropriate. That gets back to the individual needs of the individual students. We do have some students who have for a variety of reasons, they may be physically impaired or they may have disabilities or they may come from impoverished backgrounds or they be exceptionally gifted that requires them to have a kind of educational experience that may be more costly."

The governor didn't say exactly how such a method would work, but he stressed that it wouldn't diminish the resources of any school that is working well.

If you look in the Ohio constitution for guidance on how to pay for public schools, it seems easy. It says, in two sentences that the General Assembly's job to make provisions for a "thorough and efficient system of common schools" through "taxation or otherwise." But one hundred fifty seven years later people are still wrestling over the "otherwise" part.

Phillis: " The bottom line here is that the system is broken… people are getting fed up."

That's Bill Phillis, a former assistant Ohio schools chief who walked away from the job in 1992 to head the Ohio Coalition of Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. The group spearheaded a decade-long lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of Ohio's local property-tax-based system of funding schools.

The Ohio Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the system is unconstitutional, but didn't force the state to make any changes. But Phyllis is still on the scene, and still pushing for the state to take on more of the burden of funding schools. He says the tough economy is no excuse - that crisis oftentimes results in solutions.

Phillis: "During the depression, in 1934, the state of Ohio put forward its first school foundation program which increased the portion of school revenue coming from the state from 4 percent to 50 percent."

But Strickland says anyone looking for the discontinuation of property taxes will likely be disappointed.

Strickland: "The need to fund our schools has been and will remain a partnership between local funding sources and state revenue sources."

One stakeholder isn't attending the forums. State Senate President Bill Harris says majority Republicans want to work with the governor, and are waiting to see his plan. But he's made it clear that the GOP's priorities, including preserving charter schools, will be a bargaining chip.

Harris: "The governor said he's not for charter schools and he's anxious to work with the democratic legislature in the house, since they're in the majority there now. I just said, you know, that's fine but it's a bicameral legislature and we're as equally committed to our principals as he is to his. I think good negotiation will help us to get to the middle.

Governor Strickland says he hopes his proposal is accepted as a legislative initiative by the general assembly, but he hasn't ruled out going to the ballot.

Kymberli Hagelberg, 90.3

The first of governor Strickland's education finance forums takes place in Columbus today/Thursday. The second forum will take place at here at the ideacenter on Playhouse Square from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. Thursday, December 11, and will be televised on our sister television station WVIZ. More details can be found on the web site listed below.