COLUMBUS - High school graduates would be expected to have a broader background in mathematics and science if they want to attend a public four-year college or university under a bill passed 20-11 yesterday by the Ohio Senate.
The vote was nearly along party lines, with Republicans arguing that Ohio must set its education bar higher if it expects its future work force to compete in a global economy. Democrats countered that the bill lays no foundation on which to place that bar.
"A better-prepared student leads to higher success in graduating from college, which leads to a better job, a higher income for them, and more revenue for the state," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), a former teacher.
"I really believe Ohio has made significant strides in the last 12 years or so, not only in higher education funding in the state budget, but also in better standards and accounting." he said. "Education Week gave Ohio an 'A' in standards. But the one thing we don't do as well as some other states is require that students take more challenging, more rigorous courses in their last four years of school."
The bill now goes to the House, which has been pursuing a similar measure. The so-called ''Ohio Core'' has been pushed heavily by Gov. Bob Taft and the Ohio Business Roundtable and has been made a top priority for Republicans for the lame-duck session expected to end in less than two weeks.
Although it holds at 20 the number of credits that students in grades 9 through 12 must complete to earn a diploma, the bill would require them to take four years of math - up one from the current curriculum - including Algebra II. It also more fully spells out which sciences would fulfill the current three-year science requirement and mandates that those sciences be laboratory-based.
For the first time, students would also be required to complete a year of fine arts at some point between grades 7 and 12.
The changes would take effect with ninth graders in the 2008-09 school year with the graduating class of 2012 the first to be subjected to the new requirements.
Students could opt out of the core curriculum in consultation with their parents and guidance counselors, but such a move would dramatically diminish their chances of attending one of Ohio's four-year, publicly funded colleges or universities.
Democrats questioned why the plan is moving now, one month before Democrat Ted Strickland becomes governor and has a chance to put his own fingerprints on Ohio's education system in his first budget and through recommendations from a school-funding commission he proposed during the campaign.
"This may end up being the biggest unfunded mandate ever," said Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), also a former teacher. "School districts are struggling now. .•.•. We need more time."