Wednesday, May 09, 2001

School bailout plan faulted

Gilligan says urban areas hurt

By Debra Jasper
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Former Gov. John J. Gilligan said he knows what would have happened if he had signed off on an education plan like the one now moving through the Ohio legislature.

        “I would have been hanged,” he said.

        Mr. Gilligan, Democratic governor in the early 1970s and now a Cincinnati school board member, was keynote speaker during a rally in downtown Columbus Tuesday to protest a $1.4 billion legislative plan to overhaul Ohio's public schools.

        The former governor told hundreds of students at the rally that the latest school plan is an outrage that will have a devastating impact on urban schools.

        “The governor and legislature seem determined to support a hodgepodge piece of legislation worked out behind closed doors,” he said. “That is a travesty.”

        Gov. Bob Taft and the Republican lawmakers who crafted the school funding plan contend it will meet a Supreme Court mandate to bring poor school districts up to par with wealthier ones.

        In addition, the governor said the plan — which has passed the Ohio House and is now in the Senate — fixes schools without raising taxes. “I think we're doing everything we possibly can,” Mr. Taft said.

        Not so, say some educators. They believe the latest funding plan spends far too little on urban school districts, special education and gifted programs and other areas critical to student success.

        Bill Phillis, executive director of the coalition of school districts that successfully sued the state, said the group planned the rally to draw attention to such flaws and remind legislators that they are under a court order to make sure schools are fairly funded.

        To meet the court mandate, Mr. Phillis said state leaders must raise taxes. If they don't, he said taxes will have to be raised anyway - only in the form of school levies.

        Ohio may not understand the cost of educating urban youth but attorney David Sciarra said New Jersey does.

        Mr. Sciarra represented school children in a lawsuit against New Jersey filed in 1981. He told those at the rally that the lawsuit, similar to the one in Ohio, took years and spurred five New Jersey Supreme Court decisions but finally reaped big rewards for urban districts.

        “What you see everywhere is kids in school with the most advantages getting the most money. We have a deep disparity across the American landscape,” he said. “New Jersey is one of the few states that has really grappled with ways to change that.”

        Spencer Hunt and Travis James Tritten contributed to this report.


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