Canton Repository: Ohio budget prioritizes our children

Canton Repository

Children first.

Well before he became governor last November, Mike DeWine said his administration would increase attention on and funding for our state’s youngest and most vulnerable. He reiterated it frequently on the campaign trail, and in a meeting with this Editorial Board last year he roughly outlined several ideas.

He made his priority clear again in his inaugural address in January, stating in the speech’s opening minutes: “We are united in our passion and commitment to ensuring that all of our children lead meaningful, fulfilling lives.” When introducing his budget in March, DeWine put forward a proposal emphasizing initiatives that would, yes, put children first.

But all that talk would be mere words unless the General Assembly followed DeWine’s lead and passed a budget that reflected the governor’s wishes for our state.

While there are several areas of the $69 billion biennial budget lawmakers finally passed last week and DeWine signed into law that we see as problematic — discussions for another time — we were happy to see near unanimous support for what was known as House Bill 166 and its many kid-centered measures.

“This budget will lead to healthier children, stronger families, safer communities, an enhanced workforce and a more prosperous Ohio, while also providing significant tax relief for every Ohio taxpayer and regulatory relief for Ohio businesses,” DeWine said Thursday.

The budget includes the House plan for $125 million in additional services in poorer school districts, a measure Speaker Larry Householder prioritized. That comes on top of DeWine’s request for $550 million in new spending to provide “wraparound” social services — mentoring and mental health care, as two examples — targeted at lower-income school children, with the goal of improving classroom performance.

That $675 million commitment alone kept some Democrats on board after other proposals the party was pushing, especially from the House, didn’t survive the conference committee. In the end, the budget passed 29-1 in the Senate and 75-17 in the House.

Democrats specifically mentioned investments in education (a 4.1% increase for the 2019-20 school year and another 2% for the 2020-21 school year); making college more affordable by increasing funding for Ohio’s College Opportunity Grants for low-income students; improving access to health care; and investing in other children’s services, including millions of dollars in additional funding for the Kinship Care Navigators Program as reasons the final budget retained their support despite their concerns in other areas, most notably business taxes.

“While this budget could have been stronger for working families, I believe it puts us on the right path forward to keeping our promise to Ohio’s families that they have the support and tools to thrive, not just survive,” said Rep. Thomas West, of Canton, who voted in favor.

Putting kids first isn’t only about money. Raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 fulfills that goal, as does the revamping high school graduation criteria. We applaud both of those outcomes.

One kid-focused area where the General Assembly still has unfinished business: addressing state takeover of school districts that repeatedly receive “F” grades on the state report card. Lawmakers declared a one-year moratorium on takeovers and said the issue will be discussed outside of the budget process. Not a win, but not a loss, either.

Viewing the biennial budget through the lens of its education funding and increased opportunities for school choice, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute said, “All in all, this was a really good budget year for kids and parents.”

We echo those words in looking at this budget in its entirety.

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