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Published: Friday, 12/15/2006

Ohio school-related bills rushed toward vote

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS Ohio lawmakers are scrambling to pass a series of last-minute charter-school, voucher, and other education issues even as it appears a measure raising the math and science bar for high-school students may have trouble making the grade.

Lawmakers plan to bring the two-year session to a close as early as Tuesday, leaving any unfinished business to die and start the legislative process over in the next General Assembly.

Majority Republicans are considering a proposal to expand Ohio s voucher program to provide grants for students to attend the public, private, or religious school of their choice beyond the current 14,000 slots for students in the state s most academically troubled schools.

Voucher supporters hope to take advantage of this final window before Governor-elect Ted Strickland, a Democrat and voucher opponent, takes office on Jan. 8.

A variety of amendments related to charter schools are also expected.

There is an organized effort to put some charter-school amendments into the bill, said Sen. Kirk Schuring (R., Canton), who has joined Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) in urging restraint. There might also be some amendments that might cause those of us who are wanting charter school reform and accountability to support the bill.

The amendments could be added to a bill that has been sitting untouched in a joint House-Senate conference committee for a year. A meeting to finalize the bill was postponed until Monday while discussions continue.

The heart of the bill authorizes the Department of Education to require criminal background checks of licensed teachers every five years. Current law permits such checks only upon initial license application.

The bill also requires all schools, public and private, to report suspected wrongdoing by teachers and administrators to the department.

The Blade reported in October the cases of nine current and former priests and one nonpriest teacher and coach who continued to hold teaching licenses after alleged sexual misconduct, usually involving children, that was never reported to the state.

In all cases, they had either been criminally convicted, removed from the priesthood, disciplined by their respective Roman Catholic dioceses, or were the subjects of civil lawsuits financially settled by the church.

The State Board of Education has since revoked the licenses of seven of the 10.

Despite overhauling the House Education Committee to ensure support late Wednesday, the House yesterday pulled from its agenda a bill increasing the math and science hurdles high school students must clear if they hope to attend most of Ohio s four-year public colleges and universities.

House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) removed five Republicans, including Rep. Jeff Wagner (R., Sycamore) and state auditor-elect Mary Taylor (R., Green), from the committee and replaced them with Ohio Core supporters.

The bill went on to clear the committee by a vote of 12-8, with two remaining Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. But doubts persisted that the measure had enough votes to clear the full House.

The top priority of lame-duck Gov. Bob Taft, the measure passed the Senate last week.

We should have done this five years ago, said the bill s sponsor, Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green). There has been as much work done on this reform legislation as perhaps any reform bill I ve been involved with in at last 10 years and perhaps my entire 21-year career in the state legislature.

Mr. Wagner said Mr. Husted removed him from the committee because he was a no vote. He said his position reflects that of superintendents, principals, and guidance counselors in his district. I have schools that are going to the state minimums on busing, he said. This would be a cost burden to them. Not every kid needs this, and anyone who wants to take a rigorous curriculum can get it.

A person who is going to be a truck driver or a welder, not to disparage those jobs, does not need four years of math, he said.



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