Sunday, February 20, 2000

State has $1M for character education


CAPITOL INSIDER

BY MICHAEL HAWTHORNE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Many conservative lawmakers contend money doesn't make a difference in public schools, but they pushed to add money to the state budget that will finance “character education” in 58 schools during the next year.

        Grants ranging from $7,000 to $50,000 have been distributed to schools across the state, including Hopewell Elementary in West Chester ($10,000) and the Adams County/Ohio Valley School District in West Union ($50,000).

        “Character education is a growing trend throughout the nation and in Ohio,” Susan Zelman, state superintendent of schools, said in a prepared statement. “It's one way that educators can help our children learn compassion, citizenship, fairness, respect, honesty and responsibility in the behaviors they exhibit toward each other.”

        Lawmakers set aside $1 million for the program in the latest two-year state budget.

        Some of the same lawmakers who advocated the idea also have questioned increases in basic aid pumped into schools after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the General Assembly to overhaul the way schools are funded.

        They contend poor test scores in some districts show the extra money doesn't help. It's unclear how the state will measure whether this new program is improving the character of students.

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        Dale Butland, former U.S. Sen. John Glenn's Ohio chief of staff, is the new chief lobbyist for the state's largest teacher union, the Ohio Education Association.

        Mr. Butland also served as an adviser to a variety of Democratic officeholders and candidates, including former U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, former Ohio Secretary of State Sherrod Brown and Bruce Douglas, a Toledo industrialist who dropped out of the Democratic primary for governor in 1998.

        In his new post, Mr. Butland joins one of the state's most influential lobbying organizations.

        He also may have to swallow hard when the OEA doles out campaign cash to Republicans. The OEA started giving more money to GOP candidates after Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 1994, though the union gave more to Democrats in 1998 when it endorsed Lee Fisher for governor.

        “When I'm here, I'm not Dale Butland with a "D' after my name. I'm Dale Butland with "OEA' after my name,” Mr. Butland said. “I have no problem playing ball with anybody who is willing to help us out.”

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        The term “work group” in legislative circles usually is a nice way to say a bill is dead.

        Such may be the fate of a bill sponsored by Rep. Dale Van Vyven, R-Sharonville, that would require the State Medical Board to make detailed physician profiles public. The measure is tied up in the newly created Physician Profiling Work Group.

        The Ohio State Medical Association, a lobbying group that speaks for doctors, is trying to sink the bill. Its representatives contend the profiles of good doctors who settle nuisance malpractice lawsuits would look as bad as the rotten apples the bill is intended to target.

        Mr. Van Vyven, who is chairman of the House Health, Retirement and Aging Committee but faces term limits this year, tried to quiet the opposition by proposing that a message be included on the state's Web site warning consumers that malpractice awards do not automatically mean a doctor was negligent.

        People looking for currently available information on Ohio doctors can request it via computer, at www.state.oh.us/med or by calling a general information line at (614) 466-3934. The Medical Board handles about 200 requests for doctor profiles each day.

        Michael Hawthorne covers state government for The Cincinnati Enquirer. He can be reached at (614) 224-4640.

       



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