Thursday, June 24, 1999

Cincinnati schools get increase of $13 million

Ohio budget plan may go to Taft today

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Cincinnati Public Schools is one of several districts in line for big increases in state funding under a two-year education budget lawmakers plan to send to Gov. Bob Taft today.

        CPS, which plans to ask voters for a property tax increase this fall, would get $124.5 million in basic state aid next year, according to estimates by the non-partisan Legislative Budget Office.

        That's $13 million, or 12 percent, more than the district received this year.

        State aid directed to CPS would jump another 12 percent during the second year of the budget, to $139.5 million.

        Many other area districts also are expected to benefit from a House-Senate budget-writing committee's decision to bump up limits on the amount of state aid schools can receive each year. Details on how each district fares won't be available until today.

        “I'm very pleased with what we've been able to do for education,” said Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale. “Cincinnati and other districts should be happy, too.”

        Faced with $20 million in budget cuts, CPS officials also had pleaded with Mr. Finan to help bail them out by setting aside $5 million a year for the district's magnet schools.

        While district officials said this week they were surprised lawmakers didn't grant their request, Mr. Finan told them months ago they shouldn't expect anything beyond better-than-expected increases in basic state aid.

        “If this was a surprise to them, so was the fact the sun came up in the morning,” Mr. Finan said.

        The state started funding magnet school programs in the 1970s for Cincinnati and other urban districts under federal desegregation orders. Magnet schools no longer are used for racial balance, but are popular because they offer specialized programs and generally post higher test scores than neighborhood schools.

        Lawmakers set aside money specifically for Cincinnati's magnet schools in the current state budget, but did so only because CPS received less-than-inflationary increases in state aid during the period.

        “We appreciate any increases we can get,” Richard Gardner, CPS' treasurer, said of the latest education budget. “But we're still trying to make up for smaller increases in previous budgets.”

        In all, House and Senate negotiators scraped together an extra $76 million for public schools and higher education and revived the Cleveland school voucher experiment before completing work Wednesday on a compromise two-year education budget.

        The joint conference committee voted 5-1 to recommend approval of the $17.1 billion spending plan by the full House and Senate. The votes were expected to come today.

        A second conference committee, meanwhile, continued to work a separate $22.6 billion budget for the rest of state government. Committee Chairman E.J. Thomas, R-Columbus, hoped to have that legislation also ready for a vote today.

        The education budget included about $12 billion for primary and secondary schools, and $5 billion for state-supported colleges and universities.

        The larger question looming over the spending plan is whether it will convince the Ohio Supreme Court that lawmakers have fixed an inadequate and unconstitutional method of paying for public schools.

        Like Gov. Bob Taft, lawmakers ignored a trial judge's Feb. 26 ruling that they should start over in their attempt to overhaul the system. They're trying to persuade the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn the decision by Judge Linton D. Lewis Jr. of Perry County Common Pleas Court.

        Judge Lewis ruled the state hasn't done enough to finance $16.5 billion in needed school repairs and construction, or to narrow the gap between rich and poor schools.

        Gov. Bob Taft must sign both halves of the budget by June 30.

        The Associated Press contributed.



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