Canton Repository

November 14, 2002

Taft calls for court to consider academic standards progress 

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent 

WASHINGTON — Saying education reforms have improved Ohio’s schools, Gov. Bob Taft Wednesday reiterated his call for the Ohio Supreme Court to reverse itself and uphold the state’s reliance on property taxes as a key source of school funding.

Taft’s comments came after a speech before a national school reform group called Achieve. The group praised Ohio’s efforts to develop academic standards and accountability.

“That’s been a plus for us in terms of our response to the Supreme Court decision,” he said of the reform efforts. “I would encourage the court to consider the fact that, yes, dollars are important, but so is the system of high standards, assessment and accountability.”

Taft has asked the court to reconsider its ruling last year that Ohio’s school finance system relies too heavily on local property taxes, making it unfair to poor school districts whose spending is limited by small local tax revenues. Complying with the decision could cost as much as $1.2 billion a year in additional state aid to schools.

Since Taft became governor in 1999, the state has developed English and math standards and tests to assess students’ achievement in those areas. The state is at work developing science and social studies standards.

Taft made the case that the reforms have improved student performance, which he implied could alleviate the need for court-ordered changes in financing education.

The number of students passing a fourth grade reading proficiency test rose to 64 percent from 56 percent last year, he said. Even though 85,000 more students passed the test this year, Taft said more improvement is needed because 15,000 students “didn’t even come close to passing the test.”

Taft’s remarks came a week after an election that reshaped the state Supreme Court. Lt. Gov. Maureen O’Connor, believed to be sympathetic to Taft’s school reforms, won a bid to replace Justice Andrew Douglas on the court.

Douglas is part of a narrow 4-3 majority that has ruled against the state on school financing. O’Connor could tip the court the other way if she joins the three justices who have supported the current system.

Taft credited Achieve with playing a key role in the development of academic standards and accountability.

The group, formed by governors and business leaders in 1996, “has done more than any other organization to foster higher levels of student achievement across the country.”

Achieve spends about $5 million a year to help states develop standards and assessments and promote accountability.

Taft has been a member of the Achieve board since February 2001. Next year, he will move up to co-vice chairman of the board, replacing California Gov. Gray Davis, who moves up to co-chairman.

The group invited Taft to speak because of his leadership role in the standards movement, even though Ohio’s reform effort is just a few years old.

“The governor has been able to assemble a team of leaders and make this a bipartisan effort to set high standards, which Ohio has not had in the past,” said Matt Gandal, executive vice president of Achieve.

Taft traced the Ohio reforms to a 1999 study of the state’s public schools, which Achieve performed at the request of previous Gov. George Voinovich. That assessment found a lack of standards and accountability.

Taft formed a commission, which recommended changes later adopted by the legislature.