COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The wellness and opportunities of Ohio's children drive a state budget proposal that includes offering a $2,500 child tax deduction, expanding school vouchers, investing in mental health and spending $2.5 billion to prepare large sites for economic development, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday in his State-of-the-State address.
DeWine, a Republican beginning his second term, told the GOP-dominated Legislature his upcoming budget plan would extend efforts to implement a fairer, more reliable school funding formula, something already incorporated into the previous budget.
The governor also proposed creating a new Department of Children and Youth Services focused on children's physical and mental health, as well as foster care. He said the two-year state operating budget also would provide quality childcare for 15,000 more children and repeal the state sales tax on critical infant supplies, such as diapers, wipes and cribs.
Additionally, DeWine wants to provide $300 million in one-time funding for capital improvements and equipment for career tech education — an investment Democrats welcomed — and $5,000 a year incentive to students in the top 5% of their high school classes to remain in the state for college.
“We want our children to grow, to learn and ultimately live and work right here in the state of Ohio,” DeWine said. “And we know that the changes we have announced today will help them do that. Keeping our young people in Ohio has never been more important, as we create jobs faster than we can fill them.”
He called for creating an Our Ohio Future Fund that would spend $2.5 billion to prepare economic investment sites throughout the state, seeking for every Ohioan to be within “commuting distance” of such locations.
DeWine asked the Legislature to support creating the State of Ohio Action for Resiliency Network, or SOAR Network, to conduct a multi-year study on Ohioans' mental health. The network would include counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses and more to determine the most effective interventions and discover new ways to treat mental illness and addiction.
“We will do these things because they keep Ohioans working and our state thriving,” he said. “But we will also do them because it is simply the right thing to do.”
He also wants to fund an updated 911 system for emergency calls and allot $40 million a year to training law enforcement officers on topics such as de-escalation, use of force and crisis intervention for people with mental illnesses. Both provisions received a bipartisan standing ovation.
DeWine called the budget proposal “fiscally sound, spending one-time money on one-time expenditures.”
Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said there are lots of budget details to examine but he’s mostly “delighted” by the proposal, especially provisions aimed at making it easier to have or adopt children.
He has concerns, however, about proposals that depend on one-time funding from sources like the American Rescue Plan Act.
“What this means is that the state government will be responsible for paying these things into the future, probably, and if the state doesn’t have the money to pay for those things, then there has to be a cut some place," Huffman said.
Democratic lawmakers and teachers unions raised concerns about how DeWine's plans would affect public schools if he succeeds in expanding eligibility for the school voucher program, known as EdChoice.
He also proposed an additional $3,000 each to help economically disadvantaged students attend public charter schools, and doubling the per-pupil facilities funding for those schools from $500 to $1,000.
Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, of Lakewood, and House Minority Leader Allison Russo, of Upper Arlington, said they're excited about DeWine's focus on improving health of mothers and children but think the budget should include funding to support reproductive health care and protections for children against gun violence.
“We know the priorities that Governor DeWine laid out today show the potential for a bright future and what is possible for Ohio," Russo said. “But to achieve these goals and to make them a reality, Ohio must invest in its most valuable resource that will lead the state forward, and that is its people.”
Associated Press reporter Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this report.
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.