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Strickland targets charter schools, vouchers
SOURCE: Dayton Daily News
William Hershey, Laura A. Bischoff
March 14 2007

COLUMBUS — Gov. Ted Strickland on Wednesday used his first state-of-the-state speech to lay out an agenda that calls for providing health insurance to all Ohio children, expanding state support for primary and secondary schools and providing $250 million a year in property tax relief to senior citizens by taking a $5 billion payout from Ohio's remaining share of the national tobacco settlement.

Strickland, the first Democratic governor in 16 years, also picked a certain fight with the Republicans who control the legislature by calling for a moratorium on new charter schools and for prohibiting for-profit management companies from running charters. His two-year budget, to be unveiled Thursday, also will call for eliminating the statewide school voucher program, except for means-tested vouchers in Cleveland, he said.

The 50-minute speech, interrupted nearly 50 times by applause, also called for a pact with public universities that would provide 5 percent more state aid in the first year of the two-year budget and 2 percent in the second year in return for universities agreeing to no tuition increase the first year and no more than a 3 percent increase in the second.

Strickland, 65, also struck a Republican-like call for austerity by promising a budget that would grow only 2.2 percent annually, "lower (growth) than any budget in the last 42 years."

His speech also called for a $10 million of public pre-school programs and for adding 5,600 slots to the Passport program that lets seniors stay rather than go to nursing homes.

Also, he proposed targeting $250 million a year in tax exempt bonds for four years to invest in job-creating energy projects.

During last year's campaign Strickland promised to overhaul Ohio's school funding program and the speech made a start.

He said he would increase state support for primary and secondary schools from less than 50 percent to nearly 54 percent by 2009 and increase aid to low property tax wealth districts and also increase poverty-based assistance.

"....where you grow up in Ohio should not determine where you end up in life," he said to applause.

Strickland, a United Methodist minister, used the Bible to call on the House and Senate members and others in the audience in the Ohio House to work together.

"Proverbs tells us, 'Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.' But, my friends, now is the time for hope. A new day is coming. A new Ohio awaits us," he said.

House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus, a Dayton native, praised Strickland.

"Today we heard a message, not a speech. I'm proud because I've waited a long time, 16 years, to hear a message," she said.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett called Strickland's plan "a giant government handout that in many ways discourages personal responsibility and empowers bureaucracy. We heard a mixed message of limited government spending and bloated entitlement programs."

Bennett added: "Gov. Strickland's Robin Hood approach to school funding is merely a shell game that shifts the tax burden among the same taxpayers, and his education policy shamelessly deprives impoverished families of a choice in an effort to reward the political loyalties of the bureaucratic teachers' unions."