From staff reports
Devoting most of his State of the State address Wednesday to the topic of education, Gov. Ted Strickland laid out a comprehensive plan for improving primary and secondary schools and proposed the continuation of a tuition freeze at Ohio's public colleges and universities.
Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis, who attended the address at the Ohio Statehouse, commended the governor's emphasis on education and his commitment to making it as accessible as possible for Ohio families.
"It was the 'Education State of the State,'" McDavis said. "It is very encouraging to me that the governor understands the importance of education and how it will help Ohio begin to solve many of the problems our state faces."
Closing an estimated $7.3 billion budget gap in the state's next biennial budget will take shared sacrifice, the governor said. But solutions -- which will be laid out in greater detail when Strickland unveils his fiscal 2010 budget proposal next Tuesday -- can not come at the expense of a reduced emphasis on education, he said.
"Despite this austere budget, we will continue making investments that are critical to Ohio's economy and Ohio's future," Strickland said. "We will strengthen Ohio by maintaining our commitment to affordable access to our colleges and universities."
Strickland said regional campuses and community colleges will be asked to continue the current tuition freeze for the next two years, while main university campuses will be requested to keep the freeze in place for the 2009-10 academic year and increase tuition no more than 3.5 percent in 2010-11.
"By working together we are breaking down barriers to higher education," he said, noting that Ohio was the only state in the nation to hold its public institutions' tuition rates in check for the past two years.
McDavis said he looks forward to hearing more specifics about the proposed tuition freeze when the governor shares his budget proposal next week. He is hopeful it will provide the additional funding necessary for universities to keep such a freeze in place, as the last budget did.
"The fact that the governor has extended his commitment to making education accessible to our students and their families sends a very positive message," McDavis said. "Keeping education affordable creates opportunities for more citizens in our state to prepare themselves to take on the professions of the 21st century."
And considering the current economy, the president said, "it's the right message at the right time."
"It is a powerful message to communicate to anyone who may be considering starting a business in the state. It says Ohio is serious about education and wants to prepare its citizens for the jobs of the future," McDavis said. "In economic times such as these, you want to give people as many tools as possible. And it's clear that our governor sees a college education as one of the most important of those tools."
The president applauded the governor's proposal for continuing the tuition freeze on regional campuses and community colleges for the next two years.
"Our regional campuses play a critical role in the umbrella of opportunities Ohio University provides its students," McDavis said. The state's recognition of the role they play "means we need to continue to enhance the educational programs we offer on our regional campuses," he added.
McDavis said he also was encouraged by Strickland's comprehensive plan to revamp Ohio's primary and secondary education system, steps the governor said would ensure that graduates are prepared to compete in a global economy and Ohio's economic prospects are strengthened.
"Together, we must focus our energies and resources on programs most vital to our future prospects," Strickland said. "First on that list is education."
Among the changes, he pledged to increase the state's share of education funding to 55 percent in the fiscal 2010-11 budget and to 59 percent when his plan is fully implemented. Doing so, he said, would bring more equity to school funding and reduce the need for annual school levies.
Other changes called for:
- Instituting universal, all-day kindergarten.
- Bolstering curricula to ensure that global awareness and life skills are taught as well as core courses such as math and science. In addition, Strickland pledged that teachers would employ teaching methods that foster critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving and adaptability.
- Adding 20 instructional days to the school calendar -- bringing Ohio's learning year up to the international average of 200 days.
- Improving educator quality through a residency program for new teachers and increasing fiscal and academic accountability of school districts.
- Replacing the Ohio graduation test for seniors with the ACT and three additional measures that Strickland said were more "relevant and rigorous." Such steps would raise students' aspirations for higher education, he added.
"We will graduate Ohioans ready to succeed in the modern economy and in modern life," Strickland said. "Future generations will look back gratefully and say that when we came together on education, we claimed this new century for Ohio."
Updated with additional link Jan. 29, 2009.