Education raises questions in governor debate

Abbey Stirgwolt

In a small news studio under the yellow glare of dozens of camera lights, dusted with a layer or two of studio makeup, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland and Republican candidate Ken Blackwell squared off in Cleveland yesterday over the topic of education.

The hour-long debate consisted of questions from a four-member panel of local media representatives, and issues ranged from charter school performance to public education funding.

Increasing costs at public Ohio universities was another point of discussion.

To improve statewide higher education affordability, Strickland advocated drawing funding from prospective students’ families, relatives and community organizations as a source of income for college.

“I want to make it possible for every parent to open a savings account for their son or daughter,” he said.

Strickland was the only one among the nine children in his family to graduate from college.

“Too many of our young people don’t believe college is for them,” he said.

In regard to the rising tuition, Strickland said Ohio has fallen behind. “The state has failed our college students,” he said. “We need to hold institutions of higher education accountable.”

Blackwell proposed a rearrangement of higher education funds, funneling a greater amount of money into more successful universities.

“We need to give resources to the universities that are the center of excellence,” he said.

He also encouraged universities to focus more on the areas of math, science, engineering and technology.

Both candidates emphasized the importance of accountability in educational systems with a goal of improving Ohio’s schools – public, private, chartered and universities.

Strickland faulted past governors for the current state of Ohio’s education, which has fallen behind other national school systems, he said.

“We need a governor who’ll take the oath of office seriously,” he said. “We have not had a governor who will speak up and speak out.”

Strickland said gubernatorial administrations of years past have imposed “horrendous property taxes” on citizens, leaving little funding for education.

Blackwell, who voiced his intention to channel $1.2 billion into the state’s school systems, criticized Strickland for not having a specific educational reform plan.

“Hope is not a strategy and goals are not a plan,” Blackwell said. “We need more money going into classrooms, where educational activities take place.”

Blackwell said the $1.2 billion, which could be saved by cutting costs from areas such as transportation and food service, would go toward more teachers and classroom supplies.

The final portion of the debate was devoted to Ohio’s struggling charter schools, many of which, the candidates agreed, drain state funding without showing results. Both said charter schools that continually fall short of a certain standard should be eliminated.

“If you’re underperforming, you shut down,” Blackwell said.

The debate was the second of four between the two candidates, who will face off next in Cincinnati on Oct. 4 to discuss the economy.

Contact public affairs reporter Abbey Stirgwolt at [email protected].