State budget consequences coming into focus

By NICOLE HENNESSY

WESTSHORE – Ohio’s state budget is a grab-bag of issues many follow and advocate for all year long. For educators and parents concerned with graduation requirements and testing; and those battling addiction and seeking resources for improved access to treatment, eyes were glued to the June 30 budget, governor vetoes and attempted congressional repeal of those vetoes. The full picture is still coming together, but here’s what we know now:

Schools:

  • A provision in the budget sought to allow for tests to be administered by paper and pencil rather than by computer-only. Since finding enough space or technology to allow for testing by computer is an issue for districts, this change has been fiercely advocated for.  Gov. John Kasich line-item vetoed the proposal and the Ohio House did not override it.
  • An amendment for graduation requirements was added to the budget that will allow students not on track to graduate due to scores on the state tests to satisfy other requirements for students to earn diplomas, like doing community service, earning Ohio College Credit Plus credits or having attendance in the 90th percentile and/or a certain GPA. Some activists remain skeptical, stating that this is still not enough to protect students who are not on track to graduate.
  • The elimination of the fourth and sixth grade social studies tests appeared in the budget and was not on the list of Kasich’s 47 vetoes. Additional tests proposed to be eliminated are currently still in the House’s Education and Career Readiness Committee.
  • The Resident Educator Program (RESA), a teacher licensing requirement that is submitted to and graded by a company called Edutopia, was originally slated to be cut, since there is no data tied to its effectiveness.  Kkasich vetoed the proposed change and the program now stays in place.  Avon Superintendent Mike Laub said, “That would have been a very welcome change for districts to be able to manage that support locally.  It would have saved money.”

Addiction:

  • In an anticipated move, Kasich also vetoed of a provision in the budget that would freeze enrollment in Ohio’s Medicaid expansion, which would have taken coverage from an estimated 500,000 people currently covered by Medicaid. Kasich has fought against his party for this program that insured over  725,000 additional people under Ohio Medicaid, which now covers 3 million Ohioans. House members intended to override the veto last Thursday, but backed off. They still have until Dec. 2018 to override. Elaine Georgas, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Board of Lorain County, explained that her board is still combing through the budget, but she says it’s become clear that while the expansion may be safe from cuts for now, there may be some overall Medicaid recipients who will lose coverage anyway.
  • Kasich has been chipping away at the Local Government fund since 2011, an effort originally intended to resolve an $8 billion hole in the state’s budget. Now sitting on a surplus, the state counts this as an achievement, while local governments doing more with much less continue to speak out. Weeks ago, Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka warned that funds to handle the opiate crisis were earmarked to come out of the Local Government Fund, through which municipalities already struggle to fund necessary programs and upgrades, as well as maintain existing services. “We are going to realize loses in revenue,” said Zilka of cuts to the fund, plus things like the elimination of the state’s estate tax, estimating those losses to end up “several hundreds of thousands.”

Print this story