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Education budget provides stable funding

As the dust clears from what was the most difficult budget process in my 14 years in the Legislature, I would like to explain my reasons for supporting the education funding portion of House Bill 1—the state’s $50.5 billion operating budget for the next two years.

You may remember that I was a vocal critic of Governor Strickland’s original evidence-based school funding model, primarily because it increased disparity between low-wealth and high-wealth districts. For example, some wealthy suburban schools would have seen funding increases of more than 100 percent under the Strickland Administration’s as introduced budget, while many of the poor rural schools in the 17th Senate District and other parts of Ohio would have been cut or received minor increases in state aid.

During the first meeting of the budget conference committee on June 11, the Administration announced that the state faced a $3.2 billion shortfall in HB 1. Despite these dire circumstances, my colleagues and I worked to make improvements to the Governor’s education plan to ensure greater funding stability and fairness between low-wealth and high-wealth schools.

In the final version of HB 1, funding increases for all districts do not exceed .75 percent per year, while decreases in state aid were capped at one percent in the first year of the biennium and 2 percent in the second year.

I do believe that in the face of historic drops in state revenue, the Governor and the Legislature did the right thing to prioritize, and for the most part, protect education funding in the budget. A strong education system is critical to economic growth in Ohio and the future success of our young people.

None of the new mandates on schools that the Governor proposed, including smaller class sizes and additional personnel requirements, will take effect over the next two years, except all-day kindergarten, which will begin in fiscal year 2011. However, if districts are unable to comply with the kindergarten requirement, they can apply for a waiver through the Ohio Department of Education. Then, after two years, the State Superintendant must go through the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) to implement the other mandates in the evidence-based model. The Governor’s plan to lengthen the school year by 20 days has been put aside for further study.

It is important to note that with the exception of all-day kindergarten, school districts rated excellent and excellent with distinction will not be subject to the components of the evidence based model.

While work on HB 1 is in the books, the debate about the evidence-based model will continue. There are some people who have said that school funding is now solved. I cannot agree with that statement. There are still many flaws in the Governor’s education proposal. However, I voted for the bill knowing that had the budget debate dragged on, it would have caused more harm than good to our state and Ohio families and that the next budget cycle will provide a chance to revisit the issue.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.