Sunday, March 16, 2003

State spends $1.2M on education publicity

Critics: Put money in classrooms

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The state is spending $1.2 million to tell parents what students should be learning in Ohio classrooms - a campaign that could include advertisements linking new academic content standards to football, fishing and food.

A preliminary proposal calls for television, radio and newspaper spots, brochures, parent guides and a Web site to apply the material the state expects students to know to situations they encounter daily outside the classroom.

The Ohio Department of Education hired Pierce Communications, Inc., of Columbus in the fall to develop a statewide "outreach" and "awareness" plan to explain the state's new set of education expectations.

"There should be no mystery about what parents should expect their children will be tested on. We're demystifying that process," said Patti Grey, an education department spokeswoman. "If we create a new system of education in Ohio and don't communicate that, then that isn't good use of the public dollars."

But state school board members, lawmakers and education groups questioned whether the education department should be launching a million-dollar publicity blitz during a state budget crunch that has led to school funding being cut for the first time in years.

"It's that type of thing that sets people off and that looks bad," said Michael Cochran, a board member from Blacklick in suburban Columbus who is co-chairman of the board's standards committee.

"There may be a rationale that all things being equal some of this should be done, but when you're looking for education funding money, $1.2 million looms as a pretty large sum," he added.

Last week, Gov. Bob Taft ordered $100 million cut from spending on schools after the Legislature rebuffed his proposal to raise cigarette and alcohol taxes to close a $720 million state budget deficit.

On the same day, state schools Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman told districts in an e-mail that there may be more cuts because lottery profits, which by law go to schools, are $22 million below estimates and the education department has a $16 million deficit.

Rep. Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina, said the education department shouldn't have to spend $1.2 million to tell the public that it's doing its job.

"It's just one more example of a lot of the things that could be reduced to focus education spending more on the classroom and kids and less on administration and bureaucracy," Faber said.

The state is rewriting standards for what students should know about core subjects in grades kindergarten through 12. The board has approved new English, math, science and social studies curriculum guidelines. Those for the arts, foreign languages and technology still were being written.

Districts won't be required to align their curriculum with the standards, but those that don't would be taking a risk because the state will issue districts report cards based on passing rates of new standardized tests based on the standards.

The campaign is to begin later this spring, and a final decision on what it will include is about one week away.

According to the preliminary proposal, it would include brochures, commercials, a "Back to School" emphasis, parent guides for each grade level and inserts in employee newsletters in the state's top 100 businesses.

The proposal also called for targeting communities in urban and Appalachian counties, which historically have low-performing schools and low parental involvement.

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