Kasich says Ohio school plan student-focused

JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Gov. John Kasich said Thursday that his long-awaited education funding overhaul is focused on giving students an even chance to compete.

The Republican governor also said he believes the plan being unveiled later Thursday will pass constitutional muster. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the state relied too much on property taxes, which can vary widely between rich and poor districts.

"This is a plan that says that every student in any part of the state, regardless of what kind of district they come from, should be given the resources to be able to compete with a child across the state," Kasich told a legislative preview organized for journalists by The Associated Press.

Kasich stopped short of disclosing any specifics, but added: "I think you'll be surprised by the depth, the content of the plan." He said it will "strip all the politics out," and focus on directing dollars to classrooms and resources for districts that need the most help.

The Republican governor planned to discuss the plan's details Thursday afternoon with school superintendents gathered in suburban Columbus, and then in an online town hall at 6 p.m. that allows members of the public to submit questions. His proposal is expected to kick off months of debate over the best direction for Ohio -- decisions on funding Ohio's 613 school districts and 353 charter schools are likely to affect many tax bills, home values and the quality of the education children receive.

There was already criticism from some Democrats and teacher union officials that Kasich hadn't involved them in development of his plan. David Romick, president of the Dayton Education Association, said local districts are facing increased burdens for passing new levies for funding at a time when many households are budget-pressed.

"In this economy, many communities simply can't afford the tax levies that are necessary," Romick said Thursday.

Kasich has previously hinted at broad ideas that he favors besides changing the existing school-funding formula. Those include enhanced parental control, public school district funds that follow the poorest children when they choose a different education option, and monetary rewards for teachers whose students show measurable improvement.

After Cleveland's plan for transforming its struggling schools was passed last year on a bipartisan basis, Kasich took the unusual step of publicly endorsing the accompanying school levy needed to fund the changes that include making student performance a key factor in deciding teacher pay and eliminating seniority as a determining factor in layoffs.

Statehouse Democratic Reps. Teresa Fedor, Debbie Phillips and Matt Lundy on Wednesday said they want to see more money for pre-school and all-day kindergarten, which they said has been key to education advances in other states; a formula that helps districts avoid so many local levy requests; and greater accountability to the public for for-profit charter schools. The Ohio Federation of Teachers called those ideas "spot on."

Ohio has been effectively without a school funding formula since 2009.

Kasich scrapped Democratic predecessor Ted Strickland's attempt at a solution, an "evidence-based model" criticized as theoretical and unfunded. While Kasich initially predicted he'd have his formula ready by October 2011, it's taken him more than an additional year to come up with a plan.

In the two decades since the Ohio Supreme Court first declared the state's school funding system unconstitutional, many other attempts at a workable solution have been made.

One plan looked to spending by academically successful schools as the benchmark for districts statewide. Another sent a set amount per student to each district, with additional weight given to how many pupils a district had in poverty or in special programs. Strickland's plan identified education strategies that were scientifically proven to work, then tried phasing them in over time.

According to legislative budget analysts, primary and secondary education accounted for almost 42 percent of state general revenue spending in fiscal 2011 and 40 percent in fiscal 2012.

While the state has waited for a new formula, Ohio school districts have continued to receive what they got in 2009 with a few adjustments that included assurances that no district receive less than in the previous fiscal year, and extra money for those demonstrating excellence. It's called the "bridge formula."

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Online:

Virtual Town Hall on Ohio's Education Future http://KasichForOhio.com/Live

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Associated Press reporters Kantele Franko in Columbus and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed.