Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Educators, lawmakers still split on funding

By Debra Jasper
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — State leaders should move more quickly to fix dilapidated school buildings, decide what makes up an adequate education for all school children and come up with money to pay for a new system, school officials told lawmakers on Tuesday.

        Their message was delivered at times with passion during an all-day gathering which marked the first time legislators met face to face with members of the coalition which sued the state over its school funding system and won.

        In a theatrical-looking studio with stadium seating and more than 100 onlookers, 15 lawmakers and 16 coalition members hashed out everything from how much schools should spend on textbooks to Ohio's desperate need for more school buildings.

        Forest Yocum, superintendent of the Pickering Local School District near Columbus, said 1,600 of his students are now being educated in modular, portable classrooms because the district is so overcrowded.

        During a motorcycle tour of Kentucky last month, Mr. Yocum said he was embarrassed to com pare that state's new schools with the ones he saw in Cincinnati and southern Ohio.

        Mr. Yocum said when he started in his profession 27 years ago, “we wouldn't have even looked to Kentucky because we considered ourselves head and shoulders above Kentucky. We're really not doing very much compared to our neighbors, who aren't as well off as we are.”

        But while such testimony was intense, the outcome of the meeting was less than clear. At the end of the day, lawmakers and coalition members seemed no closer to agreeing on a method for meeting the Ohio Supreme Court's demand that the state figure out by next June how to educate children fairly and adequately.

        “Obviously, one day of discussion is insufficient to completely solve the problem,” said Bill Phillis, executive director of the Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, the group that drove the lawsuit.

        Mr. Phillis and the two chairmen of the legislative joint committee agreed that more discussions are needed. No meeting dates were set.


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