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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

QPac On School Funding: Ohioans Say Guv And Lawmakers Shouldn't Be Deciders

COLUMBUS (TDB) -- Some discordant trends emerged in the latest Quinnipiac poll when Ohioans were asked a series of questions about schools and school finance. Even though Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland is popular, the data shows a wave of support for changing the constitution to strip Strickland and the legislature of traditional central authority to set spending levels for the state's public schools.

There is a proposed constitutional amendment headed to the ballot this fall supported by teacher unions and other education organizations, and it would create a panel to oversee and monitor the school financing process. Quinnipiac found 66% of Ohioans support forming such a commission, and 76% of public school parents agree.

"Currently, the governor and the state legislature decide school funding levels for Ohio public schools. Do you think a special commission that includes members who have worked in the schools should be appointed to make funding decisions for Ohio's public schools, or should the governor and the legislature continue to do it?"

Only 25% said the governor and legislature. Surprisingly, more Republicans, 29%, than Democrats, 25%, said get the General Assembly and Strickland out of the school finance business.

But the proposed amendment does not get rave reviews when some of the details are explained. When Ohioans were told that there are no specifics about how the state would increase spending for poorer schools, 50% said they were less likely to support it. And people were stalemated on the question of raising taxes -- 48% said they would support a school tax hike and 47% said no. Those numbers seem to be set in stone because they have barely changed since the last poll in February.

Quinnipiac measured the Ohio electorate's sense of where the state stands financially, and there was overwhelming agreement that the overall budget problems are serious or very serious. In other words, Ohioans know that things around the Statehouse are tight. But they don't want taxes raised -- 53% said cut services.

Bottomline: The handwriting is on the chalkboard but it is somewhat scrawled, the penmanship isn't perfect. Ohioans clearly have lost faith in the traditional Statehouse institutions responsible for providing a major share of funding for their public schools, which seems to be a historic shift away from the way things have been done since the 1800s. They are open to change. But if change comes with the possibility of higher taxes, forget about it. The amendment -- which many have written off -- appears to have some life yet.

But could it withstand a counter-campaign contending it is a tax raid?

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