Created on Friday, 01 February 2013 Written by DAN SEWELL,AP Statehouse Correspondent JULIE CARR SMYTH,AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. John Kasich is taking his new school-funding plan on the road, touting proposals he says will help poor students compete, encourage innovation and address the unconstitutional wealth inequities of the current funding formula.
Kasich planned a Cincinnati appearance Friday, one day after unveiling his "Achievement Everywhere" plan.
The $15.1 billion, two-year plan boosts K-12 spending by $1.2 billion over the biennium, thanks to state revenue growth partly from expanded gambling. It also establishes a $300 million "Straight A" fund to pay for competitive innovation and efficiency grants, and expands vouchers for parents to move children from low-performing schools to private ones.
Friday's panel discussion at Taft Information Technology High School continues Thursday's daylong push to explain the long-awaited plan. During an evening town hall broadcast online, Kasich said he hopes it will bring warring education factions together for the sake of schoolchildren.
"There is no politics in this plan," he said. "We are attempting in this plan to make sure that every student in Ohio, regardless of the kind of a district they come from based on wealth, has an opportunity to compete with a child in a district that has greater wealth. We think that's really important."
Some education reform leaders and other Ohioans said they were encouraged by what they had seen of the school funding overhaul, while some Democrats said Kasich flunked at offsetting earlier school cuts and seeking bipartisan input.
The plan proposes K-12 funding increases over both years of the upcoming biennium, with a nearly 6 percent in fiscal year 2014, and a 3.2 percent the following year.
Kasich's proposal would bring all schools up to the tax base level of a district with $250,000 in property value per student — the 96th percentile of districts statewide — to ease wide disparities in millage revenues from local levies. It then directs extra money to districts for special-needs and disabled students, English language learners, gifted and talented students, and high schoolers earning college credit.
Funding help is also proposed for districts with high levels of poverty where students don't have access to preschool programs. Other aid would help them reach Ohio's new third grade reading proficiency target.
The plan also calls for increased access to school efficiency and performance information and it encourages districts to learn from the successes of comparable districts.
Kasich told school administrators Thursday that the state's financial stewardship allowed the administration to avoid the cuts many had worried about — describing their reaction to the plan as bordering on excitement. He said he wants to see the money benefit students directly, something that would be achieved by lifting some state regulations on how dollars are spent.
"We want to get those dollars into the classroom," Kasich said.
The introduction of Kasich's plan is expected to kick off months of debate over Ohio's educational direction. He planned an evening online town hall Thursday and a Cincinnati appearance Friday to continue to tout it.
School funding decisions for 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.
Democrats and teacher union officials criticized Kasich for not involving them in the plan's development.
"I have a fundamental problem with the governor's approach; that is, the lack of bipartisanship," said Ohio Senate Democratic Leader Eric Kearney, of Cincinnati. He said he was "a little bit amazed" that Kasich hadn't reached out to Democrats for their thoughts.
A key legislator in the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate said she was encouraged by the governor's sweeping plan.
"I think the devil is in the details, and we haven't seen all the details yet," said Senate Education Chairwoman Peggy Lehner, a Kettering Republican. "From the broad concepts I've seen, I think it's very innovative and dynamic."
Dayton-area seventh-grade teacher Ella Jordan Isaac said, "Unfortunately, the governor is working on education policy and school funding with only a select few. He must include all of us — especially those of us with deep classroom experience — as we move through this process."
Kasich education advisers said during Thursday's town hall that they spent months gathering input from teachers, superintendents and others around the state.
Sewell reported from Cincinnati; Associated Press reporter Kantele Franko contributed from Columbus.