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Published: Wednesday, 1/24/2001

Taft likely to stress education, not just funding

BY JAMES DREW AND JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - In today's State of the State address, Governor Taft is expected to emphasize changes to the proficiency testing program and education standards as much as resolving the lawsuit over how to fund public schools.

“The governor will present a comprehensive education plan that goes beyond merely answering the court mandates,” a senior aide said.

Mr. Taft also will outline proposals to save jobs in the ailing steel industry, boost state funding to attract high-tech firms, aid lower-income residents with high natural gas bills, and help seniors with the rising cost of prescription drugs.

But most of the attention will be on Mr. Taft's K-12 spending plan, as the legislature faces a June 15 deadline to come up with a funding formula that relies less on local real estate taxes.

Twice since 1997, a 4-3 majority of the state Supreme Court has struck down the funding system as unconstitutional.

The author of the most recent decision, Democrat Alice Robie Resnick, won't be in the front row of the House chamber at noon today with her colleagues. Justice Resnick, whom Mr. Taft failed to unseat in November, broke her right arm Jan. 2 and will remain in her Ottawa Hills home.

House Minority Leader Jack Ford (D., Toledo) said he hopes Mr. Taft will release a “bold plan on fixing school finance.”

But others question whether the governor will show leadership.

Andrew Benson, president of the Toledo-based think tank the New Ohio Institute, noted that Mr. Taft embraced a plan in December to overhaul the controversial proficiency testing program and develop detailed academic standards.

But faced with opposition from GOP legislators, Mr. Taft walked away from a proposal that his staff offered to put property taxes paid by businesses on equipment, inventory, and machinery into a “pool” and send them to poorer districts.

“I don't think that is necessarily leadership. It is reactive. If it's the right thing to do, you should push for it,” Mr. Benson said.

Tomorrow House and Senate lawmakers plan to introduce the first bills of the two-year legislative term.

The first will include several of the recommendations from a 33-member commission that Mr. Taft appointed last year. Proposals include scrapping a 1997 law that requires fourth graders to pass the reading section of the proficiency test to move to fifth grade.

Kay Shrewsbery, a Toledo Public Schools teacher who was on the Governor's Commission for Student Success, will be among the citizens that Mr. Taft salutes in his State of the State address. She was set to spend last night at the governor's residence.

“I am glad there is a teacher being recognized as an important part of the process. It does not matter whether it is me or not,” she said.

The second bill would revise how the state calculates the cost of an “adequate education” - a proposal that could cost the state $600 million to $800 million per year in the K-12 budget.

Mr. Taft is among several Republican and Democratic governors that President Bush has invited to meet at the White House on Friday to talk about education issues.

Senate President Richard Finan (R., Evendale) said he expects Mr. Taft to discuss ways to pump up Ohio's economy, which has showed signs of a slowdown in the automotive and steel sectors.



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