Local leaders push schools, workforce
Gov.-elect Mike DeWine to take office Monday.
COLUMBUS — The wish lists are long and the expectations are high for the incoming DeWine administration: more money for local governments, address the opiate crisis, fix school funding, make worker training more nimble.
Republican Gov.-elect Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov-elect Jon Husted — who take office Monday — have signaled they’ll make kids and workers top priorities in their administration. DeWine tapped Husted to be the point man on government efficiency projects and workforce development initiatives that aim to bridge the gap between worker skills and demands of open jobs.
“I’m in daily conversations with major Ohio employers who say, ‘Look, the nature of our work is changing. We need to upscale our workforce,’ “Husted said of worker re-training efforts.
“This is not just an Ohio problem. This is an America challenge. It’s a global challenge. And the issue is which communities and which states get it right — they’ll be the ones that prosper. The ones that don’t will get left behind.”
And local hopes are high, in part because of local ties — DeWine hails from Cedarville and Husted is a University of Dayton grad who lived in Kettering.
“My impression is that Gov. Kasich was focused on really big ( job) wins, and that meant he tended to focus on the Columbus area,” Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said. “We now have a governor and lieutenant governor who know this part of Ohio well. We hope we can work with them to get state help in bringing more jobs to our communities.”
New starting point
DeWine will replace John Kasich, who held the job for eight years. DeWine is inheriting a state jobless rate of 4.6 percent — nearly a full percentage point above the national rate of 3.7 percent; $2.7 billion in the state rainy day fund; and a AA+ credit rating.
But there are still serious economic problems facing Ohio.
In a report published in March 2018, Fran Stewart and Bill Shkurti of the Ohio State University John Glenn College of Public Affairs found: Ohio’s per capita personal income is 9 percent below the national average; the state lost 700,000 high-paying manufacturing jobs over the past 50 years due to automation and competition; and a large number of people dropped out of the labor market, discouraged because they lack the skills employers want.
Jeff Hoagland, President and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition, said his organization has been working to ensure the region has a trained and skilled workforce, and will focus in 2019 on supporting Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the state’s largest single-site employer.
“I know economic development and job creation will remain a top priority,” he said. “We look forward to working with the new administration and supporting their economic development efforts.”
Social issues plague the state as well:
■ *Ohio’s infant mortality rate of 7.4 deaths per 1,000 live births is among the highest in the nation;
■ the opiate addiction crisis is gripping communities and on average 13 Ohioans die every day of accidental drug overdoses;
■ *the number of suicides increased 37.4 percent between 2007 and 2017;
■ the firearms death rate climbed to 12.9 per 100,000 in 2016, up from 9.6 in 2005;
■ 994,000 Ohioans have felony criminal records and the state’s prison population stands at 51,273.
Jan Lepore-Jentleson, executive director of WestCare Ohio/East End Community Services, said although opioid-related deaths dropped in 2018, that issue remains, while methamphetamines, cocaine and alcohol are killing people at a slower rate.
“The crisis isn’t over. It is changing,” she said.
“We need ongoing state government support for addiction treatment programs, and significantly increased funding for community prevention services and for support systems for people in long-term recovery.”
Budget and education
One of DeWine’s first big challenges will be proposing a two-year state budget to the General Assembly by March 15. The spending plan, which will represent DeWine’s priorities, must be adopted by June 30 by both chambers.
Early last week, DeWine and Husted, who is a former Ohio House speaker, met briefly with Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, and newly named House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford. Householder, who served as speaker between 2001 and 2004, told reporters that he wants to support DeWine but he noted “I haven’t seen his agenda.”
Householder said his top issue is K-12 school funding, which he says hasn’t been addressed in a substantive way in at least 15 years. Warren County state Sen. Steve Wilson, R-Maineville, supported DeWine’s promise to spend more on early childhood education, and agreed with Householder that the school funding formula is flawed. New state Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, went even further on school funding.
“I think we will struggle on the same struggle we’ve had for over 25 years — the illegal formula of state education funding,” Huffman said. “We just need to get it right.”
Huffman replaced Bill Beagle in the state Senate representing the 5th District which includes Dayton and most northern and western suburbs along with Preble, Miami and part of Darke counties.
There’s room for improvement in Ohio’s education system. Fifteen percent of Ohio students don’t earn a high school diploma in four years, the state’s post-secondary attainment rate is below the national average, and scores on national tests have been flat.
Several local leaders had education near the top of their priority lists for the new administration, whether it was higher education costs, education equity, early childhood efforts or “social-emotional learning.”
Centerville school Superintendent Tom Henderson said while every agency has an eye on the state rainy day fund, his desire is that state leaders give schools more local control. He said frequent new state laws, such as paying for high school juniors to take the ACT, turn into unintended costs and outcomes.
“I would like to see the state allow us more local control and provide an opportunity for us to really govern ourselves,” he said.
Lepore-Jentleson wants more support for “social-emotional learning” efforts to help at-risk students manage stress coming from childhood trauma. Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit NAACP, also called for efforts to help at-risk kids, saying the state needs to make sure low-income communities have educational equity with wealthier areas.
“If DeWine is going to do what he said on (early childhood programs), I think that’s great,” Foward said. “Education opens doors to unlimited possibilities . ... But we cannot do pre-K in lieu of (quality) K-12 school funding. It has to work hand in hand.”
David Young, vice chair of the board for UpDayton, a group for young professionals, was more focused on the end of the education spectrum, saying college affordability is a huge issue.
“We hear over and over from young professionals that once they finish school, they are stuck in a cycle of debt at the same time they’re trying to find a great job,” Young said. “It would be awesome to have a state initiative helping place those graduating students in jobs they are seeking and keeping them in the great state of Ohio.”
Helping local communities
Local government officials spoke with a unified voice on their top priority — restoring state “local government fund” money that was cut on the back end of the recession to balance a troubled state budget.
Republican Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt said she and Copeland, a Democrat mayor, are “really different philosophically.” But they both listed the local government fund as their top priority. Wilt said big Clark County programs — job and family services, public safety, parks, re-entry programs for offenders — have all been strained by state cuts, forcing local taxes to make up for it.
“All of those things are funded by the county budget, and a good portion of that county budget is made up of Local Government Fund, or at least it once was,” she said. “We are optimistic that the DeWine administration will put county infrastructure and serving people in the counties as a higher priority.”
Kettering Mayor Don Patterson said cities have the same concerns over state funding.
“The leaders in Columbus need to understand that making Ohio a vibrant state — one that attracts and retains residents and new businesses — starts in our cities,” Patterson said. “We need them to restore respect of home rule and return to local governments the millions of dollars in critical funding that was redirected to state coffers in the last decade.”
DeWine takes the oath of office and becomes governor at 12:01 a.m. Monday at his home in Cedarville. He will be the first Miami Valley man to serve as governor in a century and the only Ohioan to be elected lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, attorney general and governor.
DeWine will be the 64th person to serve as Ohio governor. Again, the five top state elected offices will be held by Republicans, and DeWine will have Republican super-majorities in both the House and Senate. Wilson, the Warren County state rep, said he’s excited that DeWine seems to want to work with the legislature more than Kasich has the past two years.
Foward, the NAACP president, said he hopes state leaders of both parties will look past politics, and to the needs of everyday Ohioans.
Sometimes Republicans or Democrats are so stuck in their (political) ways, and it’s not always their values. They forget about all of the American people,” Foward said. “Our nation is so polarized. Let’s get in the middle and make something happen for the American people.”
Gov.-elect Mike DeWine will take office on Monday.