Wednesday, March 10, 2010

GUEST COLUMN: "Pricey Mandates Put Schools at Risk" by St. Rep. John Adams

Pricey Mandates Put Schools at Risk
By State Rep. John Adams

It’s no secret that with the passage of Ohio’s fundamentally unbalanced budget, everyone in the state is struggling—the elderly and disabled, small business owners, and hardworking families like yours and mine. Now, because of costly mandates created by Governor Strickland and House Democrats, schools and our children’s future are on the chopping block.
After suffering $32 million in state budget cuts, many of Ohio’s 612 school districts struggled to make ends meet by reducing services or cutting extracurricular programs. Additionally, in the wake of these devastating funding cuts, schools will be sucker-punched with an unfunded all-day kindergarten mandate in the 2010-2011 school year.
Ohio Democrats included this $127 million across-the-board mandate into the budget to modernize Ohio’s education system. Aside from the 123 disadvantaged districts that receive state grants for all-day kindergarten, this unfunded mandate will be difficult to implement without making cuts elsewhere, like in transportation or after-school programs.
The lawmakers who supported putting this burden on struggling districts have clearly fallen out of touch with their constituents back home. If they demand universal all-day kindergarten in Ohio, they need to provide the funding to make it possible, especially with so many districts having already taken huge hits.
As a father of seven children, keeping Ohio’s school system strong and competitive is one of my top priorities in Columbus. I know the importance of a modernized education system to a child’s development and to the overall success of the state; however, I also know that lawmakers should be sensitive to the financial limitations of some districts that are already barely staying afloat.
For this reason, I cosponsored a bill that would offer school districts an exemption from any unfunded mandates that were included in the biennial budget, including all-day kindergarten. When enacted, House Bill 366 will give local boards of education the ability to opt out of the mandate if they do not currently have the means to support it. I hope that in the next few months, those who insisted on including unfunded school mandates will also allow some districts the freedom to decide if the mandates are achievable.
House Bill 366 is a vital step toward preserving the integrity of our schools. I hope that House Democrats will give it fair consideration to ensure that school programs are not cut just to afford the pricey law. This one-size-fits-all mandate is counterproductive to the best interests of our schools, and we need to restore local control over this important issue.