Zelman: Funding has to increase

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 2, 2003

COAL GROVE - In the last four years, state funding for Ohio's public schools has increased 33 percent.

With those additional dollars, districts across the state, particularly those in rural, less wealthy districts in southeast Ohio, have made huge strides in providing effective education for all students. But that could change if the state legislature decides to cut school funding in the next fiscal year and beyond.

Last night, Dr. Susan Tave Zelman, state superintendent for public instruction, visited Dawson-Bryant High School in one of nine educational forums across the state. She said educators need to get the message to lawmakers that if Ohio is to have a strong economy, it must first have a strong educational system. That means school funding must increase, not decrease.

Email newsletter signup

"It's no accident that jobs and people are going to states that offer better education," Zelman said.

"We need to create an educated workforce so kids will have the skills and the ability they need to get good paying jobs, and so that the state can attract business and industry. In the new global economy, human capital is essential. This is our greatest resource today.

"I'm grateful to the legislature and the governor for investments made (in the past). I want them to know they didn't put this money into a black hole. An increase in funding has gone hand in hand with an increase in results. We're developing new curriculum and new strategies for educating our children. We're showing results. We're grateful for what they've done in the past, but we need to sustain our investment.We need to convince them education is not a budget item."

Her visit comes as the Ohio legislature mulls over proposals to balance the state's budget in the coming fiscal year. Some proposals under discussion would cut state funding to education by more than a $1 billion. Zelman said the talk of state funding cuts comes at a time when educators know more about preparing students for the future than ever before. Now that educators know what direction to take education, they are in fear of not having the money to get there.

This is a gut-wrenching thought to Dawson-Bryant Superintendent James Payne, who said more than 80 percent of

his district's

funding comes from Columbus.

"I think we need to get together as school superintendents and make a personal message to legislators about what kind of impact this would have on our students," Payne said. "We need to show them what the money has meant to us in the past and show them that we really do need to keep school funding strong. Our investment will pay off a hundred fold in the future."

Payne is not alone in his sentiments. Lawrence County School Superinten-dent Harold Shafer said most county school districts rely heavily on state funding to pay for even the basic necessities.

Zelman said she endorsed the governor's proposed increases in the so-called "sin taxes" - that is, hiking taxes on such things as tobacco and alcohol products as a way of getting more money to pay for education.

The forum last night in Coal Grove was one of nine planned across the state to bring local leaders together to discuss how education has changed over the years and how it needs to evolve in the future to better meet the needs of an ever-changing economy and to prepare students to enter that rapidly changing workforce.

"We're here to listen and learn from you to see what we can do back in Columbus to make education better," Zelman told the 250 people who attended the forum. "If we keep doing it the way we've been doing it, we'll get the same results, and we know this is not good enough for our kids."

Shafer agreed.

"Education is extremely important to all of us and to our students, if they're going to be successful," he said. "Sports are fine, but its education that puts the bread on the table."