Sunday, July 18, 1999


Number crunching reduces dropouts

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        State lawmakers like to talk tough about holding schools to more rigorous standards, but they can be a bit sensitive about making their constituents look bad.

        So with little public debate, the General Assembly tucked a provision in the state education budget that quashed a controversial method to measure each school district's dropout rate.

        Only 23 of the state's 611 school districts met the dropout standard last year. Some schools that are considered among the best in the state, such as Indian Hill and Wyoming in Hamilton County, couldn't pass muster.

        To pass, districts had to have a dropout rate of 3 percent or less. But school officials vehemently complained about the way the state calculated the rate: 100 percent minus each district's graduation rate.

        “Three percent is an OK standard for a single year, but it's tough to achieve during an entire high school career,” said Paul Marshall, director of governmental relations for the Ohio Department of Education.

        The new education budget changed the standard to measure each school's graduation rate. With provisions for students who transfer to other schools or take more than four years to graduate, districts pass if at least 90 percent of their students get diplomas.

        Changing the standard boosted the number of school districts that passed to 199 this year — nearly nine times more than the previous year.

        Local school officials have a lot riding on the state standards, which also measure proficiency test scores and attendance rates. Schools that fail to improve could face harsh consequences, including, in the most extreme cases, a state takeover.

        Rep. Diane Grendell doesn't just want an airport grant for her district restored. Now she is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to kill a plan by Republican legislative leaders to shield legislative records from public review.

        In amending her lawsuit against GOP leaders, the Chesterland Republican asked the court to strike a variety of items in the state budget that don't pertain to state spending. She contends they violate the Ohio Constitution's edict that each bill deal with a single subject.

        Ms. Grendell originally filed her lawsuit after legislative leaders erased a $30,000 grant for the Geauga County Airport Authority from the spending plan.

        Media organizations and government reform groups failed to persuade Gov. Bob Taft to veto another provision, making Legislative Service Commission records secret. Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, slipped the item into the budget after failing to win support for stand-alone legislation last year.

        Mr. Finan said he feared lawmakers would use bill drafts and correspondence with lobbyists against each other in campaigns.

        Ohio Republicans spent thousands last year trying to thwart Democrat Mark Mallory's bid for a state Senate seat. But the news must have escaped the national GOP.

        Mr. Mallory, who defeated former Sen. Janet Howard, R-Forest Park, recently received a form letter from Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC).

        “Are our records right — are you a fellow Republican?” the letter begins before asking Mr. Mallory for a campaign contribution.

        “I don't mean to pressure you, but the official 2000 election kickoff begins in just a few weeks. We must locate and identify our supporters, like you, though mailings like this.”

        Who knows how Mr. Mallory ended up on the RNC's mailing list, but the letter is another example of why election campaigns often are described as the silly season.

        If the RNC still has trouble figuring out Mr. Mallory's party affiliation, they may not soon. He's mulling a challenge to U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati.

        Michael Hawthorne covers state government for The Cincinnati Enquirer. He can be reached at (614) 224-4640.


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