Tax cuts, reprieve on teacher standards move through Ohio Senate

by JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent Published:

Columbus -- As he heads into a fall re-election bid, Ohio Gov. John Kasich on May 20 backed a package of new tax cuts and a one-year reprieve from school district and teacher penalties related to the state's new education and teacher evaluation standards.

Those and a host of other proposals were woven into four midterm budget bills moving through the GOP-led Ohio Senate. All four bills have already cleared the Ohio House, but state representatives would have another chance to review the changes.

Kasich's tax proposal includes accelerating a planned 10 percent income tax reduction by six months by reducing withholding rates on the final 1 percent in July rather than January.

His plan would also boost small business income tax reductions to 75 percent from 50 percent for tax year 2014 and would double the earned income tax credit available to low-income Ohioans from 5 percent to 10 percent of the federal credit. Another change would raise personal income tax exemptions for low- and middle-income taxpayers making under $80,000 a year.

The administration said stronger state revenue than expected would allow for the cuts, estimated at $402 million.

Under amendments incorporated into a midterm budget bill on education, which cleared the Senate Education Committee on May 20, Ohio school districts and teachers would get a one-year reprieve from funding penalties or job sanctions tied to new state learning and teacher-evaluation standards.

Districts and teachers would get a pass on any performance deficiencies or test score declines identified as new standards are phased in. No job sanctions related to those evaluations would be imposed during the 2015-16 school year. It also says funding allotments would remain at current levels, without regard to report card changes that occur while Ohio phases in new student assessments and graduation tests.

Teachers across the state have been under review and observation starting this school year, and are required to meet certain performance targets under the law to keep certain assignments and avoid penalties.

A teacher union leader and other school officials expressed relief about the changes.

"We're pleased that state lawmakers are listening to the concerns of parents and educators that too many school districts in Ohio are not ready to implement the new Common Core standards and related assessments," Ohio Education Association president Becky Higgins said in a statement. "While this is a step in the right direction, we believe more time will be needed than just one year to get it right."

Damon Asbury, legislative services director for the Ohio School Boards Association, said in an email that the group agrees districts and teachers should not be unduly penalized as they go through the transition period to new standards.

Additional education revisions adopted by the Senate panel stipulate to local control over the curriculum, textbooks and course materials used in Ohio classrooms as Ohio phases in multi-state Common Core learning standards.

Also, under the bill, seven-member academic standards review committees would be established in English, social studies, science and math. The committees would review tests given in schools and would recommend any changes. Each committee would include three content experts, a teacher, a parent, and designees of the state chancellor and superintendent. Members would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. Tests and answers would become a public record. He said the proposed expanded public review should gain more widespread support.

Associated Press Correspondent Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

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