Lawmakers gambling with education funds

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 20, 2003

Tribune editorial staff

This year marks the bicentennial of our state and the 100th anniversary of powered human flight, credited to Ohio natives. Great celebrations and events are under way to mark the two historic anniversaries.

However, as hoopla abounds about our past feats, we are amazed at the lack of gumption on the part of many of the Buckeye State's lawmakers.

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A seemingly simple issue has left the state in a position to potentially lose $400 million in federal education dollars.

At issue is exactly how the state of Ohio counts its schoolchildren. Yes, that's correct, the state that spawned several U.S. presidents, the founders of aviation and countless other historically significant Americans in its 200 years cannot figure out how to count school children.

OK, that statement is not entirely fair. The state knows how to count its school children but its method is not allowed under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The result is the feds are threatening to withhold $403 million tied to the state's compliance with the law.

On Friday, lawmakers scrapped a plan that would count the students twice - once in October and again in March. The plan was not allowed under the federal guidelines. Instead of actually solving the issue, lawmakers instead agreed to pass the matter along to a special school funding commission set up by Gov. Bob Taft.

Lawmakers say they "hope" they can convince federal officials to free up the money anyway before the start of the new school year.

In not acting decisively and quickly, lawmakers are playing a bit of a poker game with $403 million money that Ohio education officials desperately need - especially considering the state's current fiscal shape.

And, unfortunately, the chips with which they are playing are Ohio's children.