Friday, September 22, 2000

Higher education budget is $6.1B

Two-year plan has high-tech initiatives

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ohio's Board of Regents adopted a $6.1 billion biennial operating budget on Thursday, saying it will create jobs and expand the work force to embrace the new information economy.

        The budget includes $2.9 billion in fiscal 2002 and $3.2 billion in fiscal 2003. Funding now is $2.4 billion in fiscal 2000 and $2.5 billion in fiscal 2001.

        University of Cincinnati President Joseph A. Steger praised the regents for “recognizing the potential in our state and presenting a reasonable request to turn that potential into reality.”

        The budget strategy rewards schools that prepare technologically competent workers, improve teacher training, and promote technological and economic development.

        Foremost among the new programs are:

        • The Ohio Plan. It seeks breakthrough developments for research, development and commercialization of biotechnology, information technology and nanotechnology, the creation of super-small devices for industrial, medical and computer uses — $150 million a year for two years.

        • The IT Guarantee. Community and technical colleges will retrain workers at no expense to them or their employers — $32 million during the biennium.

        • Appalachian New Economy Partnership. This will provide high-tech training and support creation of jobs in Ohio's Appalachian counties — $8.5 million over two years.

        • K-16 Initiatives. Spanning kindergarten through college, this focuses on teacher training, better math and science education, and improved college readiness — $100.5 million in the biennium.

        • CollegeNet. Schools need in formation technology and help keeping hardware and software current — $50 million a year for two years.

        The budget does not say how much goes to each campus. That will be decided by complex formulas after the state appropriates the money in mid-2001.

        UC expects to do well, Dale L. McGirr, vice president for finance, said during Thursday's meeting at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Delhi Township. “It's a pretty good package.”

        In the current biennium, the regents provide 24 percent of UC funding, or about $160 million a year. The total will rise but the percentage will remain or decline.

        Robert W. Faaborg, associate professor of philosophy and chairman of the UC faculty senate, called the budget “a good first step in restoring Ohio to its proper place in supporting its colleges and universities.”

        However, after listening to the emphasis on worker training and jobs, Mr. Faaborg worried aloud about the “strong emphasis on assessing our institutions of education with respect to their impact on Ohio's economy, but the overall budget proposal should be supported and accepted.”

        That could be sticky. Thursday's budget reflects an average annual increase of 12.9 percent and Ohio's Office of Budget and Management wanted annual increases held to 10 percent.

        Rich Petrick, vice chancellor for finance, saw wiggle room because the biennial request is less than 10 percent if $300 million for the new Ohio Plan is treated as a special request.

        When negotiations end, whatever is left goes to Gov. Bob Taft. If he approves, it goes to the legislature and back to Mr. Taft for his signature.

        “This really is a tightly integrated strategy,” Chancellor Roderick G. W. Chu said. The budget, he said, should not be treated as a Chinese menu, funding some from Column A and others from Column B.

        Should that happen, Mr. Chu warned, the budget “simply will not deliver the benefits” it promises.

        Mr. Chu and the regents said it would be a mistake to treat the budget as a challenge to money for court-mandated increases in state K-12 funding.

        This biennial request supports improved K-12 education through better teacher training. Regents said Ohioans must appreciate education from preschool through college as something vital.

        Supporting K-12 and post-secondary education is something legislators can campaign on rather than championing one against the other, regents' chairman Tahlman Krumm Jr. said.


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