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Published: Monday, 4/6/2009

Gov. Strickland faces lawsuit over education reforms

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS A Republican state lawmaker turned to the Ohio Supreme Court Monday in an effort to force Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland to detail the evidence behind his evidence-based model to fix Ohio s school system.

Rep. Seth Morgan, a freshman lawmaker from the Dayton suburb of Huber Heights, complained that Mr. Strickland has asked the Ohio House to approve a $54.4 billion, two-year budget plan containing the new funding formula for K-12 schools in Ohio without fully explaining how he reached the conclusions behind proposed education reforms.

Carrying on a medical research analogy that Mr. Strickland used in January State of the State Address, Mr. Morgan said, We have to have the confidence to ensure that, if the system has a broken leg, we heal that leg, not amputate the other.

Mr. Morgan filed two public records requests with the governor s office, ultimately receiving a lengthy bibliography of research materials that the office said was used to determine the most effective way to divide billions in state funding among more than 600 local school districts.

Mr. Morgan noted that the Ohio Academy of Science challenged the conclusions of some of the studies cited, and he argued that other studies seem to contradict each other as well as the governor s proposal.

He was unclear, however, as to exactly what form he believes Mr. Strickland s response should take.

We don t want to have 100 boxes dropped at the House door five minutes before we vote on the plan, said Rep. Louis Blessing (R., Cincinnati). The Democrat-controlled House is expected to approve a budget before the end of the month, at which time the Republican-controlled Senate will get its chance.

Mr. Strickland held a series of forums last year on what should take place in the classroom and how the state should pay for it. In his State of the State Address, he promised that the state would use research-proven methods to divide the money as he proposed such things as longer school years, longer school days, all-day kindergarten statewide, and tying funding to such things as teacher-to-student ratios and smaller classroom sizes.

The governor has said he wouldn t consider his administration to be a success if it didn t address repeated state Supreme Court rulings that the state s system of funding schools unconstitutionally places students in poorer districts at a competitive disadvantage with those at their wealthier counterparts.

Some lawmakers have questioned how the answers to that dilemma could translate into some lower-wealth districts, including Toledo Public Schools, receiving less money in the plan s second year.

Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, suggested the lawsuit is more a case of lawmakers not doing their homework than the governor doing his.

There s a whole compendium of evidence out there, he said. The governor doesn t have a lock on that evidence. If they want to offer a different plan, then they ought to survey the evidence that s available on the Internet and in studies and books There s nothing secret about the evidence.



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