Ohio: New governor wants to encourage foreign language study

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Jan 2 20:35:54 UTC 2007

Article published January 1, 2007

Strickland plans to take a cautious path in state
Proposals will require time


COLUMBUS - After nearly a year of campaigning, voters should have a pretty
good idea of what to expect from a Gov. Ted Strickland. But it could be a
year or so before they know exactly what the Democrat plans to do about
school funding. And it could be two years before he starts tinkering with
the state's tax system, if at all. The governor-elect is confident he will
roll out a proposal designed to make Ohio a major player in alternative
and renewable fuels like ethanol and wind power, but details on what that
policy would entail are probably months away. "I am not going to be saying
a whole lot on specific initiatives until I am clear regarding what it is
I am dealing with, what I'm inheriting," the 65-year-old congressman from
southern Ohio said during a recent interview in his old campaign
headquarters in Columbus.

His concerns over the state's books may be well founded. While the state's
fiscal year reached its halfway point yesterday, revenue collections
through November were below expectations, thanks largely to sluggish
sales-tax collections. The 12-year congressman and former prison
psychologist and minister will officially succeed Gov. Bob Taft shortly
after midnight on Jan. 8. He soundly defeated Republican Secretary of
State Ken Blackwell as part of a November election in which Republicans
were driven from all but one statewide, non-judicial office. A ceremonial
day of inaugural events will take place on Saturday, Jan. 13 beginning
with a morning prayer service and ending with a $75-per-person, black-tie
optional inaugural ball at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Mr. Strickland's
first act will be to move the governor's working office, now on the 30th
floor of the Riffe Tower in Columbus, back into the governor's old office
in the Statehouse. The rooms are currently used primarily for bill
signings, press conferences, and other formal events.

"I want to be in the mix," he said. "I want to be there communicating with
legislators. I want to be accessible to the people. I want people to drive
by High Street or Broad Street and look in there and see the light on and
know that there's somebody home." Mr. Strickland must present his first
two-year budget proposal to the General Assembly in March. Before that,
lawmakers and the public will look for early signs of direction in his
first State of the State Address. "It is my hope that later next year we
will have a major emphasis on alternative renewable energies," he said.
"I'm talking about biodiesel, ethanol, wind power, a major push toward
conservation, continued support through our universities for research on
the cleaner use of coal. "It is my intention to make energy a huge part of
what we hope will be an economic renaissance in Ohio," he said.

He plans to follow through with his promise to put together a large panel
of diverse interests to delve into Ohio's educational system from
preschool to college in hopes of developing a plan that would include a
proposal on the thorny subject of school funding. Mr. Strickland agrees
with state Supreme Court rulings that public schools' heavy reliance on
local property taxes unconstitutionally puts students in poorer districts
at a competitive disadvantage with their wealthier counterparts. He offers
no guarantee, however, that he will embrace what comes out of that panel
if he isn't convinced good-faith negotiations took place. "I am
encouraged," he said. "Although there are so many disparate groups and
approaches to this, there is a kind of fermentation out there, I think.
It's certainly there in the business community. It's there in the
education community.

"I think parents are concerned about it," he said. "I think the religious
community, the community of faith, is concerned about this, so I think we
may have an opportunity to do what's been difficult to do in the past."
Even so, he said he is disappointed that the Republican-controlled
legislature, at Mr. Taft's request, jumped the gun by passing a bill
raising the math and sciences bar that high-school students must clear
without spelling out how schools are supposed to make it happen. "I'm
certainly not opposed to a robust curriculum and high standards," he said.
"The concern I've expressed about the current approach is having the
requirement to learn without providing the opportunity to learn.

"Foreign language is a thing that our students should be studying, and I'd
like to see foreign language taught in the elementary schools," he said.
"In order to do that, you've got to have teachers of foreign language.
Simply trying to make ourselves feel like we've done something significant
by placing a curriculum requirement on the schools without providing the
opportunities is shortsighted," Mr. Strickland said. He also isn't happy
with the GOP-controlled legislature's recent votes undermining his
discretion in some areas. But Republican lawmakers were probably correct
when they assumed the Democrat would try to interfere with their
long-standing policy against using government funds for family-planning
counseling that might mention abortion.

And they were probably right that the just-completed lame-duck session was
their last chance to expand Ohio's program giving parents grants toward
tuition at the public, private, and religious schools of their choice. Mr.
Strickland is no fan of vouchers. "I think it's been disappointing," he
said. "I don't think it reflects the kind of approach that I would have
hoped would have taken place during this lame-duck session." Legislators
probably didn't have to go to the trouble of passing a law to forbid the
next residents of the governor's mansion in Bexley from tinkering with
first lady Hope Taft's garden featuring plants from the state's various
ecosystems. Mr. Strickland has no intention of touching it and hopes to
have it designated the Hope Taft Learning Garden.

The Tafts and Stricklands recently had lunch at the governor's residence,
and Ted and Frances Strickland received a tour of their new home for at
least the next four years. Mr. Strickland characterized the afternoon as
casual and "wonderfully friendly," but he said Mr. Taft didn't offer him

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance at theblade.com or 614-221-0496.


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