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Appalachia school chiefs want share of Ohio wealth

Julie Carr Smyth, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Superintendents from Appalachian Ohio said Tuesday that the governor's state budget doesn't share enough of Ohio's economic good fortune with their schools and children.

Members of the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools told state lawmakers and reporters Tuesday they are disappointed with the budget. They said the administration's new school-funding formula leaves many of their districts worse off.

"I could understand the continued funding reductions if Ohio was still headed down the road to economic ruin, but that is not the case," said George Wood, superintendent of Federal Hocking schools in Athens County. "The governor's been proclaiming that things are turning around in Ohio."

Wood said Gov. John Kasich's $63.2 billion, two-year state budget calls for revenue growth from income taxes, sales taxes and the Ohio Lottery.

"I'm happy about all that, I just want it to be shared," Wood said. "And I think the first place you share in a state is with your children. That's where you start first then everything else happens later."

He noted cuts come as districts are phasing in a host of new education policies.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the funding formula boosts state payouts to most Ohio schools, even some that have experienced population losses.

"The governor's plan provides $1.2 billion in total new funds over the next two years for K-12 and 56 percent of Ohio students attend a school that will see an increase in funding," he said. "And despite the fact that some districts are losing students, this plan doesn't cut their funding, but instead guarantees them at least the same funding as last year."

Tom Gibbs, superintendent for two districts in Washington County, said Kasich's plan to use a drilling-tax increase for income-tax relief will take profits from oil and gas resources extracted largely out of Appalachian counties and deliver them as tax cuts based on wealth.

"So essentially we have a budget that proposes to take the very resources from the most depressed region of our state ... and distribute it to other areas of the state based on income, which means that isn't coming back to southeast Ohio," he said. "That money is going to wealthier suburban and urban districts."

Gibbs said, "It just doesn't make sense."

Kasich has said the benefits of the shale drilling boom in eastern Ohio need to be shared statewide and help both individuals and small businesses through income tax reductions.