How quickly they forget

It was a direct question that deserved a straight answer from the politician whose campaign platform stressed education. The query was posed to Ohio’s new governor at the January Akron Round Table press conference—his first public appearance since being sworn into office (aside from the inaugural festivities).

“Seeing how (former Governor George) Voinovich’s move to slash education dollars resulted in a tight labor market, how do you plan to help increase education funding so business owners can get qualified workers?”

“Run that by me again?” Gov. Robert A. Taft responded with a blank stare.

“Seeing how Voinovich slashed education….”

“Slashed?” interrupted Taft, who, like his predecessor, is Republican. “I don’t recall that,” Taft retorted.

How odd that, only a few months after his campaign, during which he touted facts and figures pertinent to Ohio’s education funding, Taft seemed to forget the reductions in Ohio’s funding of higher education. Voinovich made cuts in 1991, 1992 and 1993 amounting to approximately $272 million, resulting in a 7.9 percent tuition increase over a three-year period. These cuts compelled former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, to call Voinovich a “damn dummy.”

According to Paul Marshall, assistant to the superintendent of the Department of Education in Columbus, “Any kind of cut to education can exacerbate an existing problem. Ohio funds primary and secondary education—we’re like 26th among the states—but in higher education, we’re like 40th.”

The statistics swept under the carpet were slashes that compounded Ohio’s labor dilemma then and now. Side-stepping them, Taft responded to the rest of the question.

“Our tight labor market is a very important issue. In fact, that’s our biggest economic development issue today,” he said. He then referred to his three-point plan to address the problem:

1. Do a better job of educating students.

2. Expand the “tech-prep” program—a partnership among business, schools and universities to gradually guide students into technology-based careers. “We’d like to expand that program from $8,000 up to $35,000 over the course of my tenure as governor,” Taft said.

3. Consolidate work force development and training programs by merging the Department of Human Services and the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services.

Upon hearing that Taft didn’t “recall” the three-year, $272 million cuts to higher education, Richard Petrick, vice-chancellor for finance at the Ohio Board of Regents, remarked, “It’s good to be reminded that when the state’s in a crunch, historically it has balanced its budget on the backs of students. We can’t afford to let that happen if we want Ohio’s economy to be competitive in growth.”

Lest we forget.