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Published: Thursday, 6/5/2014

Tax cuts, tests for graduation OK’d for Ohio

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Lawmakers tinkered with graduation requirements, delayed effects on schools from still-changing curriculum, and approved more than $400 million in tax cuts Wednesday night as they finished business for the summer.

The House and Senate gave final OKs to the education and budget bills with Republicans generally in support and Democrats in opposition, sending them on to Gov. John Kasich.

House Bill 487, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Brenner (R., Powell), changes the education budget, including replacing Ohio’s graduation test with seven end-of-course exams. The tests would take effect with the class of 2018.

Students would have to pass exams in English I and II, algebra, geometry, U.S. history, government, and physical science. The first four would be mandatory. Students who pass exams in advanced placement or college-level classes in the other three subjects do not have to take those state graduation exams.

Another option to meet the graduation requirement would be to get a “remediation-free” score in math and English on a college admission test, such as the ACT or SAT, a test that the state would pay for during the student’s junior year.

Students not on the college track could instead earn a vocational-technical diploma to graduate.

Sen. Peggy Lehner (R., Kettering), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, called the current graduation test “low-level.”

“People have said it was really representative of an 8th-grade level of knowledge,” she said.

The bill delays potential impacts on school districts and individual schools as a result of the shift in the state’s curriculum to align with Common Core goals.

Schools would not face penalties in the next school year only because of poor report card performance as a result of the changes.

The bill, however, does not walk away from the Common Core, designed to set consistent K-12 standards across states but criticized by some as usurping local control and relying on standardized tests.

House Bill 483, sponsored by Rep. Ron Amstutz (R., Wooster) and also headed to the governor’s desk, accelerates income-tax cuts set in motion last year, reaching the planned 10 percent goal this year instead of 2015. It temporarily expands the tax break for small businesses from 50 percent to up to 75 percent on their first $250,000 in income.

“Recent budget priorities, cutting taxes that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest instead of investing in communities, eduction, or health and human services, have been moving Ohio down the wrong path,” said Rep. Charleta Tavares (D., Columbus). “We have seen a continuation of an almost stagnant economy while residents continue to be asked to shoulder more burdens at the local level.”

But Sen. Scott Oeslager (R., Canton) countered that the tax cuts send a message.

“By cutting taxes as we did in (the budget passed last year) by $2.7 billion and in this bill with over $400 million for a total of $3.1 billion, we’re sending a signal to business and economic development people throughout the country that Ohio is open for business,” he said.

In addition to the direct income tax cuts, the bill would double Ohio’s Earned Income Tax Credit from 5 percent to 10 percent of the federal EITC. But unlike its federal cousin, Ohio’s credit will remain nonrefundable, meaning one must owe taxes in order to benefit.

The tax cuts will be at least partly paid for with the state’s stronger tax collections, which were running $259 million, or 1.6 percent, above projections through April with two months left to go in the fiscal year.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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