By Pat Gainor, Staff Writer
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine gave his first State of the State speech since the beginning of his second term, laying out his proposal for Ohio’s next two-year budget.
The forefront of DeWine’s plan focused heavily on K-12 education and the improvement of literacy. According to the Ohio Department of Education, around 40% of Ohio third-graders are not proficient in reading, so the governor tasked the department with developing a plan to bring evidence-based learning to all students to improve literacy.
DeWine also asked lawmakers to cover the cost of school resource officers for schools that request then, as well as proposing an increase to the income eligibility level for EdChoice scholarships by 400%. This increase, if approved, would lead to families of four near the poverty line whose kids attend private schools being eligible for $111,000 per year.
DeWine proposed the increase of Ohio College Opportunity Grant maximums from $3,000 to $6,000 for students with working families, as well as the creation of a $5,000 scholarship for Ohio students who graduate in the top 5% of their class and choose to attend a university in-state.
“We want our children to grow, work and ultimately live here right in the state of Ohio,” DeWine said.
This proposal received a standing ovation from lawmakers.
Another focus for DeWine’s proposal was mental health.
“For the past year, I have talked a lot about mental health, but there was a time when no one wanted to talk about it, a time when it was easier to simply look the other way,” the governor said. “My fellow Ohioans, that time is over.”
The plan includes the construction of a community care system that prevents addiction locally, increasing the accessibility of mental health services such as the 988 hotline for suicide prevention, growing a behavioral work force and the creation of the “State of Ohio Action for Resiliency Network,” which would “help launch new discoveries about the brain and about resilience.”
Finally, with regards to public safety, DeWine earmarked $40 million a year “for continuous training for Ohio law enforcement officers on topics ranging from de-escalation to use-of-force to crisis intervention for someone with a mental illness,” along with funding for improved body cameras on Ohio police officers. The governor also supported the implementation of the “Next Generation 9-1-1” system in every state, which transfers calls directly to local dispatchers using GPS tracking on the caller’s phone to give a more accurate location to first responders.
Shortly after this speech, both State Senate President Matt Huffman (R) and Senate House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D) asked the governor where the money for this plan was going to come from. DeWine claimed that Ohio had the ninth-highest tax rate in the country and the highest in states controlled by the GOP. The Tax Foundation lists Ohio’s tax rate as 24th highest out of all 50 states.
Estimates for the implementation of DeWine’s education proposals were placed at roughly $178 million a year by the Legislative Service Commission.
The proposed budget plan for 2024-25 is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks. Lawmakers will have until June 30 to vote to approve the plan.