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Strickland releases education plan

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Feb. 2, 2009 (AP): Ohio would fund its public education system based on the cost of educating individual students rather than the current way of determining how much money it takes to make a successful school, under a groundbreaking education plan Gov. Ted Strickland released Monday.

Strickland’s plan invests an additional $275 million in local school districts over the two-year budget cycle, which includes a heavy infusion of as-yet-unsecured federal stimulus money. The administration has been touting its bottom-line investment as totaling $925 million in new dollars, but that figure also includes money the state is giving districts to make up for lost tax revenue.

Gov. Ted Strickland

However, state budget officials said the increases in education funding were made possible due to tough choices made in many other areas of the budget.

The funding changes shift more of the financial burden to the state and away from local property taxes, addressing Ohio Supreme Court rulings that the state's funding system relied too heavily on a district's wealth or poverty.

The new plan ties district funding to the number of schools of ``ideal'' size a district should have. The plan establishes ideal school sizes for elementary, middle and high schools, as well as for ``small'' school districts with fewer than 800 students. Funding is determined by the costs of educating a student, including the teachers and buildings needed and required technology—such as computers.

Districts will receive funding for teachers based on the number of teachers needed according to a specific teacher-to-student ratio, for example, one per 25 students from Grades 4 through 12. Each school district will have a teacher salary scale based on student poverty, community wealth and college attendance rates. Teachers in poorer, lower-achieving districts will receive larger salaries, and thus greater funding from the state.

``The governor's general direction we're very supportive of,'' said Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. Phillis said Strickland's approach gets rid of the old model, in which a politically determined pot of money to be spent on education is divvied up among school districts.

Strickland's budget increases state aid to local school districts from $7.17 billion to $7.18 billion, or 0.2 percent, in the fiscal year that begins in July, and from $7.18 billion to $7.44 billion, or 3.6 percent, in the next fiscal year.

It calls for reimbursing districts for tax revenues lost due to the elimination of the tangible personal property tax, which is being phased out as part of a 2005 tax overhaul, and is expected to be replaced by a new tax on business sales.

According to documents released Monday, Strickland's education budget also relies on $1.7 billion in one-time aid to local districts coming to the state from an expected federal stimulus package. Strickland has said the increased state funding will be sustainable in future years because of expected revenue growth.

Republicans hadn't seen the details of Strickland's proposals, but were concerned by the heavy reliance on the one-time federal money.

``There is a sense that the use of this type of funding is dangerous to taxpayers as it creates a structural imbalance that will only put off and exacerbate our budget problems into the future,'' said House Minority Leader Bill Batchelder, a Republican from Medina. ``What needs to be examined is how the state will maintain this increased spending after the federal money is depleted.''

The state increases its share of the funding by making up the difference between the property tax revenue raised by 20 mills and the cost of educating each student. The state currently assumes that each district raises 23 mills, even when many do not.

Strickland's plan enables districts that are now above the 20 mill floor to change a portion of the taxation base to a conversion levy, which would enable the amount homeowners pay in taxes to rise and fall with their property values. Voters would have to approve the conversion levy.

Strickland said such levies would enable districts to increase revenue without having to go to the ballot year after year to keep up with rising costs.





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