Senate asked to remove attendance change from budget

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2003


(AP) - The state's top educator asked the Senate to eliminate from the state budget a proposal to fund schools monthly instead of yearly.

Schools Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman, along with school districts and some state lawmakers, fear that the attendance formula is being rushed through the Legislature.

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Preliminary analyses have shown that schools would lose state funding, with urban districts that typically have high turnover rates being hit the hardest.

''This may be sound policy, but it needs to be debated in another venue other than a budget bill,'' Senate President Doug White, a Republican from Manchester, said Tuesday.

Senate Republicans favor removing the proposal from the budget, White said. The move would allow more time for the proposal to be studied, possibly by Gov. Bob Taft's Blue Ribbon Task Force, which will review the entire school-funding system.

The Legislature is trying to write a spending plan for state agencies for the next two years in a time of declining state revenues and a sour economy.

The Senate began work last week on the House-passed budget, which includes a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase. Voters would have the option of replacing the increase after one year with revenue generated by slot machines at the state's seven racetracks. The Legislature must send the budget to Taft for his signature by June 30.

Ohio currently relies on a one-time head count in October and averages that over three years to help determine how much basic aid each school should get.

The change, proposed by Republican Rep. Jon Husted of Kettering, is intended to give school districts an incentive to increase attendance and to ensure the state doesn't pay for ''phantom students.''

The House plan would provide $4.4 billion in basic state funding to schools in the fiscal year beginning July 1, a 1 percent increase, and $4.3 billion the following year, a 3 percent decrease, when the new attendance formula would take effect. The total for the second year was based on enrollment estimates.

Zelman estimates the proposal would reduce per-pupil aid by $300 million over two years.

''We would be taking it from the districts that need it the most at a time when we're asking them to do more,'' she told the Senate Finance Committee.

She said state and federal laws in the last two years have set many new requirements for schools to improve and measure student performance.

Zelman also asked the committee to restore money for training educators to be better teachers and administrators, and for assessing student learning by setting standards and giving proficiency tests. The House eliminated or cut money for both areas.