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Published: Friday, 3/16/2007

Governor visits Toledo school

Gov. Ted Strickland reads a book by Keyser Elementary students during his stop in Toledo to promote his spending proposal.
Gov. Ted Strickland reads a book by Keyser Elementary students during his stop in Toledo to promote his spending proposal.
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Gov. Ted Strickland s State-of-the-State promises to increase school funding, slam the brakes on new charter schools, and effectively kill Ohio s school voucher program drew praise yesterday at Toledo s Keyser Elementary one of several stops he made throughout the state to generate grass-roots support for his budget proposal.

Toledo Board of Education members, school union leaders, and teachers emphatically thanked Mr. Strickland for changes he proposed to Ohio s public education system.

The one thing that has bothered me about school funding more than anything else has been the inequity in the system, the governor said.

The fact that with the reliance on the local property tax, as we have, and as the [Ohio] Supreme Court said is inherently unfair, we ve had a system where some schools have all the money they need to do whatever they want to do, and other schools do without, the governor said.

Among the promises made during Wednesday s State-of-the-State speech, Mr. Strickland said he would increase per-student funding by 3 percent each year to $5,565 in fiscal year 2008 and $5,732 in fiscal year 2009.

He also promised to increase poverty-based assistance by 22 percent and parity-aid funding by 8 percent. Poverty-based assistance and parity aid are two funding sources allocated per student for districts with a high percentage of poor students.

The state s total appropriation for kindergarten through 12th-grade education would increase more than $294 million to a total of more than $6.65 billion in fiscal year 2009.

State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), Toledo Board of Education President Deborah Barnett, and Toledo Federation of Teachers President Francine Lawrence took turns greeting and thanking the governor as he entered Keyser Elementary.

I ve been sky-high since yesterday afternoon, since the State-of-the-State, Ms. Lawrence said, clutching Mr. Strickland s hand. We are jubilant.

The governor toured the school on Hill Avenue popping into classrooms with an entourage of reporters, staff members, and local officials. He spoke briefly with students, took time to shake the hands of every first grader in one classroom, and later read stories from a book created by a second-grade class.

Third-grade teacher Regina Parker thanked Mr. Strickland for his proposal to provide health insurance coverage to every uninsured child and young adult up to age 21 by raising income eligibility limits for existing programs and allowing low-income working families to buy into Medicaid.

The governor told reporters his budget proposal would be a tough sell for the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

I expect a big fight, he said. It doesn t have to be mean-spirited.

He also added: The budget I unveiled today will only pass if the grass-roots folks in Ohio, the moms and dads who live in these local communities, get behind it and let the legislators know this is important to the future of Ohio.

The state s urban school districts like Toledo Public have been hit hard financially through the loss of students to charter schools and the voucher program.

The district expects to lose $50.5 million in funding this school year to charter schools and another $1 million to the voucher program.

Students had been eligible to apply for a voucher worth $4,250 through eighth grade and $5,000 for high school toward tuition at a private school if they attend a public school that has been rated on academic watch or academic emergency status the equivalent of a D or F grade for two of the last three years. There are 19 such schools in Toledo.

Mr. Strickland said he would call for a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools and for a prohibition against them being run by private for-profit companies.

We hope to hold charter schools to the same standards, he said.

The fact is that during that moratorium, we are going to develop standards of accountability: fiscal accountability and educational accountability, because these schools are receiving public tax dollars and some of them are being operated by for-profit managers who are getting millions of [tax] dollars, the governor said.

He said many charter schools, which are public in Ohio, receive failing grades from the Ohio Department of Education.

The governor and several of his staff members traveled yesterday to Cleveland, Toledo, Dayton, Cincinnati, and finally back to Columbus to discuss his proposed two-year budget.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.

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