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Published: Wednesday, 1/17/2007

Coalition launches Ohio constitutional amendment campaign to fund schools

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS Not willing to wait for the new governor to weigh in with his plan, a coalition of education groups today launched a campaign for a constitutional amendment that they say will shift more of the cost of education from local property taxpayers to the state.

The plan, however, does not mandate property tax rollbacks and does not suggest where the state would find the extra money it will need to send to schools.

The proposal also takes the decision on what the price tag of a public education is in Ohio away from lawmakers and hands it to the State Board of Education.

When the people of the state of Ohio approve this initiative in November of this year, not only will they be guaranteeing a high level of education for every student in Ohio, they will be authorizing the General Assembly yes, directing the General Assembly to provide the investment, said Jim Betts, spokesman for the Campaign for Ohio s Future.

Critics immediately characterized the proposal as a hidden tax increase masquerading as a local property tax cut.

The proposal does an end-run around Gov. Ted Strickland s pledge to name a panel to fashion a solution to Ohio s school-funding problems, a solution that may or may not result in a ballot issue.

The Democratic governor, in office less than two weeks, is Ohio s first governor to agree with the Ohio Supreme Court s rulings that the dependence on local property taxes to fund schools unconstitutionally places students in poorer rural and urban districts at a competitive disadvantage with their wealthier suburban counterparts.

A coalition of teacher unions, school boards, school administrators, and parents submitted proposed petition language today to Attorney General Marc Dann. Once the group receives approval that the language accurately reflects the proposed constitutional amendment, it will launch a drive to gather 402,276 signatures of registered voters, 10 percent of the number who voted in the 2006 gubernatorial election, to put the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The proposal generally calls on the State Board of Education, a panel of elected and governor-appointed members, to determine what qualifies as a quality education and then set the price tag for supplying that education. Currently, the state is spending $5,403 per student this year.

The measure does not require a local school property tax cut, but supporters say it would reduce the need for future tax levies to fund schools.

Under the proposal, the state would be responsible for making up the difference between what a district s first 20 mills of taxes generates and the per-pupil price tag set by the state board of education. The measure does not require schools to reduce their overall millage to 20 mills, nor does it prevent districts seeking voter approval of additional millage.

"The problem with Ohio schools is not money. It s what s being done with the money, said David Hansen, president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a conservative Columbus think-tank which is opposed to such a constitutional amendment if it reaches the November ballot.

The Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus schools are in the top 10 nationally just for teacher pay, not counting benefits, yet all three school districts are performing miserably, he said.

Read more later in The Blade and online at toledoblade.com.



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