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Published: Tuesday, 4/5/2005

House panels may delay Taft education funds

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Republican-controlled House subcommittees yesterday proposed delaying most changes in education funding pushed by Gov. Bob Taft in his $51.3 billion two-year budget plan.

But schools would be forced to count enrollment twice a year - in October and May - for funding purposes and more students could be eligible for vouchers to attend private and religious schools than the governor has proposed.

Past budget cuts affecting treatment and medication for children with severe handicaps like cystic fibrosis and hemophilia would be reversed, but how much of the Medicaid dental and vision services will survive remains to be seen.

A proposed 3 percent cut in nursing home subsidies would be eliminated, as would several new and increased fees designed to support programs slated to see taxpayer support decline under the governor's plan.

A full House vote is expected next week. A final budget must be in place by July 1.

"I'm hopeful that in the next couple of days we'll get into the meat of the budget," said Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo). "It was enlightening to hear the subcommittee reports, but we still have very little indication what will ultimately be in the substitute bill."

According to numbers supplied by Rep. John Schlichter (R., Washington Court House), chairman of the Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, no school districts would receive less money under the subcommittee's formula while there were many lowered under Mr. Taft's proposal.

"The urbans might be helped in some cases," he said. "Declining enrollments may not necessarily help some of them, because they have less kids there to count. There's nobody that's going to take huge jumps, but there are people who would, at worst, be flat-funded."

The subcommittee would preserve the cost-of-doing-business factor as part of the K-12 subsidy formula. The governor's proposal would eliminate this component, which has generally helped urban schools.

Mr. Taft's revised "building blocks" formula would be delayed one year and partially implemented in 2007. Mr. Schlichter said the changes add about $25 million to the state's $13.7 billion two-year K-12 budget.

Lawmakers received a little help from the Ohio Supreme Court yesterday when it voluntarily proposed reducing its budget request for the next two years by $8.3 million.

Spokesman Chris Davey said it was coincidence that this figure would be enough to patch a hole created in the governor's proposal when the House GOP majority decided last week to scrap an unpopular parking fee at 74 state parks.

The various subcommittee proposals would also:

●Spread the pain of increased fees to replace tax dollars cut from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources.

Mr. Taft proposed a $2.75 increase in the fee for trash haulers to dump a ton at landfills. The counter-proposal would trim that to $1.50, increase the fee for tire recycling by $1, and increase by 25 cents the fee to dump a ton of construction debris.

●Greatly expand the use of managed care-particularly in the care of the aged, blind, and disabled-in the state's $10 billion-a-year Medicaid program.

●Authorize the state auditor to conduct audits of billings by Medicaid service providers.

●Delete new fees proposed for ODNR on ginseng collection permits, nuisance wildlife animal control operators, and all-terrain vehicle permits.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com or

614-221-0496.



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