Gardner appeals to House to grant exemptions from new school mandates

COLUMBUS – Instead of placing all of Ohio’s focus on raising state income taxes to fix the budget, Rep.
Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) tried Wednesday to get legislators to help local school budgets.
Gardner, a former high school teacher, sponsored an amendment to allow local school boards to exempt
themselves from new mandates in the state budget bill if the district does not have sufficient funds or
classroom space to comply. New requirements that schools must have lower student-teacher ratios in
elementary grades and provide all-day kindergarten next school year have raised concerns among school
officials who have seen state aid reduced in the next two years. The current law allows schools to apply
for a one-year waiver from the all-day kindergarten mandate, but only if the state superintendent of
schools agrees.
"This amendment would allow local school officials the freedom to decide how to balance their local
school budgets without having to get permission from Columbus to do what they believe is right,"
Gardner said on the House floor during Wednesday’s debate on House Bill 318.
Gardner told the House that the challenges have occurred in part due to the General Assembly’s
implementation of "the most aggressive school construction and renovation program in America,"
one aspect of the state’s response to the Supreme Court decision on school funding.
"Now, hundreds of school districts in Ohio don’t have enough classrooms to comply with mandated
student-teacher ratios or mandated all-day kindergarten," Gardner said. "To deny that this is
a problem is to deny reality."
Gardner also cautioned that the problem is enhanced based on $497 million in state aid cuts to local
schools throughout the state over the next two years, with many districts losing 10 percent of their
state support.
"It just doesn’t make sense to force more mandates and more costs on local schools when state
support just isn’t there," Gardner concluded.
The Gardner amendment was tabled (defeated) on a near party-line vote, with 45 Republicans voting yes and
53 Democrats voting against it. The bill now moves to the state senate where the amendment could be
considered again.