Education improvements made in Ohio

Published 11:50 am Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The success of our education system is an issue that impacts every Ohio community and one that will take center stage during next year’s budget process.

Gov. Strickland held several education conversations with teachers, administrators, students and parents this summer to help decide the future direction of the state’s primary and secondary schools. I am eager to hear the Governor’s ideas and will continue to work with the Administration and my colleagues in the Legislature to ensure that all Ohio’s students have every opportunity to succeed.

In the meantime, it is important to mention that the Ohio General Assembly has taken significant steps over the past decade to increase funding for our schools, boost support for low-income districts and improve academic results.

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Funding for Ohio’s schools has increased nearly 51 percent over the last 10 years, while the Consumer Price Index grew approximately 31 percent. This includes record levels of funding for primary and secondary education in House Bill 119—the state budget for fiscal years 2008-2009—to the tune of $16.5 billion over the biennium. At the same time, the base cost per student in Ohio has jumped 61 percent from $3,550 in 1997 to $5,732 in 2009.

There have also been efforts to boost financial assistance for low wealth school districts and provide greater opportunities for disadvantaged students. For instance, in HB 119, lawmakers voted to include more than $970 million over the biennium in Poverty-Based Assistance for districts with high levels of economically-disadvantaged students. These dollars are to be used to increase academic intervention, close the achievement gap, fund all-day kindergarten, reduce the size of K-3 classrooms, support drop-out prevention programs and help students with limited English proficiency.

On top of that, the state has invested nearly $7 billion in the construction and renovation of school buildings since the Ohio School Facilities Commission was established in 1997. Not to mention, the securitization of Ohio’s Tobacco Master Settlement dollars, which was approved by legislators in HB 119, will provide $4.2 billion for school facility improvements over the next three years.

The General Assembly’s efforts have not only brought billions of more dollars into our schools, but have also helped improve student performance in the classroom.

For instance, in 2007, Ohio’s 4th and 8th graders outperformed the national average in reading, math, science and writing. And, overall, Ohio students have increased their proficiency test and Ohio Graduation Test scores by more than 18 percent over the past nine years.

There has also been noticeable improvement in the average Ohio SAT and ACT scores. Ohio students’ average SAT score in 2007 was 1,600, compared to the national average of 1,511. The state’s average ACT score is ninth highest in the country.

It is also important to point out that Ohio’s high school graduation rate has increased in the last decade from 79.8 percent in 1996-1997 to nearly 86.9 percent in 2006-2007.

We must also recognize the vital role of Ohio’s teachers in our children’s success. Ohio placed fifth nationally for the number of teachers who have earned national board certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. With so much top talent in our schools, the state has worked to boost teacher salaries to keep these dedicated professionals in Ohio. A 2007 report from the National Education Association ranked Ohio 14th in the nation for the average public school teacher salary.

School funding, as it is every two years, will be a major focus of the upcoming budget. Many folks believe the state needs to move away from its reliance on local property taxes and find an alternative revenue source to help fund our schools. While I believe this is a worthwhile debate, I would like to provide the following information as a framework for this discussion.

According to the Ohio Department of Taxation, Ohio schools received $9.5 billion in property taxes in tax year 2005. If income taxes were used to replace this property tax revenue, in 2008, the state would have had to double the rate assessed on each personal income tax bracket. In addition, to replace the $9.5 billion with sales and use taxes, Ohioans would have had to pay 6 cents more per dollar in 2007 from the current 5.5 percent to 11.5 percent.

I believe we have made significant progress to improve education in Ohio. In fact, the 2008 Quality Counts annual report published by Education Week, a national education newspaper, ranked Ohio seventh in the nation based on school achievement, finance, accountability and alignment. However, there is still a great deal of work left to be done.

I look forward to working with the Legislature, the governor and his Administration during the next budget cycle to ensure Ohio’s education system continues to move in the right direction.