He called the education reform, which forms part of Ohio's 2010-11 budget of $50.5 billion, “not a perfect plan, but it’s a good starting point,” he said. The budget was signed July 17, 2009.
His educational reforms include changing the curriculum to teach additional skills more fit for the 21st century, extending the public school year, creating better quality teachers through a required residency program, changing the way students are assessed before graduation by requiring the ACT college assessment exam, and improving school districts’ accountability.
“I think this is our way forward,” Strickland said “I think it will strengthen our schools.”
Amy Higgins, Elyria Schools spokeswoman, said her school district members were “proud” to show the governor the brand new state-of-the-art Elyria high school, currently under construction and set to open in 2011.
“We're very honored that he's come here,” Higgins said “His education plan is finalized. We (need) all the money we can get,” Higgins said.
Strickland said he was “hugely impressed” with the $68 million Elyria High School construction project.
Also present were Lorain County Joint Vocational School Superintendent John Nolan, State Sen. Sue Morano and State Rep. Matt Lundy.
Higher Education and Tuition Freeze
Strickland began the conversation with higher education.
He said when he first became governor, the state had undergone 10 straight years of tuition increases for public colleges and universities averaging 9 percent each year. He said higher education had become unaffordable for students and that was unacceptable. Lawmakers were able to freeze tuition for the undergraduates for the last two years. Ohio State University was able to continue the tuition freeze for a third year.
He said his hope is to continue with “three straight years of no tuition increase. No other state in America has been able to do that,” Strickland said.
Elementary and Secondary Education
Ohio’s public school funding system was found unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court because of the disparity in fund distribution between wealthy and poorer neighborhoods.
Strickland said with the new state budget, he plans to make the school funding system constitutional and equitable.
Strickland brought the education reform discussion to Elyria, the city “that recorded the highest claims for unemployment in Ohio for the last quarter of last year,” said Elyria Schools Superintendent Paul Rigda.
Rigda said the school district's ability to improve depends on the state of the economy.
“The governor has made education his first priority,” Rigda said “This is truly a historic commitment for Ohio's students.”
The public education reforms include:
· extending the public school year from 180 days to 200 days over the next 10 years to meet international standards,
· requiring all school districts to adopt an all-day kindergarten,
· extending each school day with community service, tutoring and wellness programs,
· placing nurses in all schools,
· reducing the property-tax mills that school districts must levy from 23 to 20 and the state makes up the difference,
· placing a two-year tuition freeze for community colleges and regional campuses,
· placing a one-year tuition freeze for major four-year universities, then keeping tuition raises at no more than 3.5 percent in 2011,
· replacing the Ohio Graduation Test with the ACT college assessment test, but also requiring seniors with an additional end-of-course exam and senior projects,
· and developing better trained teachers by requiring a four-year residency program.
The state funds an average of 51 percent of a school district’s budget that will increase to 61 percent with the new budget over time, Strickland said.
One Elyria teacher questioned how to guarantee the residency programs' efficiency.
With the new state budget, Elyria city schools would ultimately see more funding than with the previous budget, and would be receiving funds from the federal stimulus package, said Elyria Schools Treasurer Fred Stephens.
“What's good about this budget is that it's based on our needs, rather than on the student population (size),” Stephens said. “We will see a significant increase, about 15 percent more than with the previous budget.”
But in the short term, most school districts will actually see less state aid.
Strickland said ultimately the average school district will receive 5 percent more in state aid than with the last budget because of the additional federal stimulus money included.
State Rep. Matt Lundy said “This is truly going to be a summer of transformation for education in Ohio,” Lundy said “We came together with a bipartisan plan for true education reform in Ohio. Many have wanted to be the education governor but you sir, truly are the education governor,” he said, looking at Strickland.