Strickland slashes state budget, while state board asks for more

Facing constitutional requirements for a balanced budget, Gov. Ted Strickland earlier this month announced $540 million in cuts to the state budget, which ends June 30, 2009 (see here). These cuts come on top of $733 million in cuts made earlier this year and on the heels of Strickland's and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher's Wall Street Journal op-ed talking up Ohio's economy (see here). In this round of cuts Strickland "held harmless" a few state expenditures like basic per-pupil funding to schools, Medicaid, and the state prison system. Agencies were directed to submit this week their plans for meeting the budget reduction.

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) had to carve $26 million from its spending. Having reduced $101 million from its budget already this year (see here) and without the ability to cut direct funding to schools, the department achieved the savings by trimming 4.75 percent from most General Revenue Fund line items, including early childhood education funding, and making deeper cuts to line items for literacy professional development (15.54 percent or $2.2 million) and educator preparation (16.74 percent or $201,000), among others (see here). In the coming week, ODE will share information with schools about the specific impacts of these budget cuts.

Also due to the Governor this month were agency budget proposals for FY2010-2011. Anticipating a further downturn in Ohio's economy, the governor asked all agencies to submit two budgets for the next biennium, one each at 90 and 95 percent of current funding levels. The State Board of Education complied and approved two reduced ODE budgets at its regular meeting. However, the board made clear its belief that the education department needs more funding by unanimously approving a resolution supporting a "flat-plus" budget that would increase education spending by 2.2 percent in FY2010 and 5.2 percent the next year (see here). Board member and budget committee chairperson Carl Wick told Gongwer News Service that the board may not even think that the flat-plus budget provides adequate funding for primary and secondary education (see here, subscription required).

It's hard to imagine other state agencies, whose directors are appointed by the governor, publicly promoting such pie-in-the-sky spending requests in the face of the state's current economic constraints and despite the governor's call for reduced spending. Those agencies are instead looking hard at how they can trim costs while carrying out their missions. It has been more than seven months since Strickland announced that he wants control of the state's K-12 education system. The jury is still out about who should govern public education in Ohio, but in the meantime a major disconnect seems to exist between the current regime-the state board and the superintendent it hired-and the governor.

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