Maybe the budget bill needs a few more brains working on it

The House Finance and Appropriations Primary and Secondary Education subcommittee will wrap up public hearings this week on Gov. Strickland's education reform plan, despite disagreement about whether a Finance subcommittee is the appropriate group to consider massive changes to state education policy.

The governor's budget proposal would not only change how Ohio funds its public schools but also make major changes to things like academic content standards, student assessments, teacher employment and licensure rules, and the governance of teacher preparation programs. Because of the complexity and extent of the education provisions in the budget bill, Rep. Gerald Stebelton (R-Lancaster), ranking minority member on the House Education committee, believes it is beyond the capacity of any one committee to fully explore its implications.

"The House Education committee, under the worthy leadership Rep. Brian Williams [D-Akron], a retired educator and superintendant of schools, has many members who have a great deal of experience with public education who are capable of exploring the myriad of education issues raised by this bill," Stebelton told The Gadfly in an e-mail. Stebelton believes the two committees could work simultaneously on the budget bill. "We could be working in parallel with the Finance committee, analyzing the bill, taking testimony, and reviewing proposed amendments and attempting to finalize it while the Finance committee addresses the financial issues of not only education but also the remainder of budget."

Rep. Steve Dyer (D-Green), chair of the Finance Primary and Secondary Education subcommittee disagrees. "The pieces [of the governor's plan] should stay all in one place," Dyer said. "All of these reform components are now driving money through the funding model." Because the reforms ultimately affect what the state spends on education, Dyer thinks the bill should remain in the Finance committee but pointed out that he is working with Rep. Williams on the budget.

 Dyer has given the public more opportunity to weigh in on the myriad education-related budget proposals. The subcommittee held three evening regional hearings in Akron, Marietta, and Dayton that were open to the public. More than 150 people testified who might not have had the ability to travel to Columbus to testify during regular hearings.

Stebelton, who also has concerns about the constitutionality of the governor's proposed conversion levy, sent a letter to House Speaker Armond Budish (D-Beachwood) several weeks ago requesting that the education portions of the budget be moved to the Education committee. His request was denied. Other lawmakers are putting together a similar request, but with the House planning to have its version of the budget to the Senate the week of April 20, it seems unlikely their request will be honored either.

"Given the very limited time-frame we have to finalize this bill and send it to the Senate it just seems to me that the leadership of the House is not availing itself of all the talent available in the House, both Democrats and Republicans, who could be working to clarify the many confusing issues that remain to be resolved before its comes to the floor of the House," he said.

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