In Ohio, we’re working hard to create an economic environment where businesses and jobs can grow so hard working Ohioans can get back to work. As we begin another calendar year, I’ve found myself looking back on the many great things we’ve been able to accomplish in 2013 to make our state one of the most attractive places in the nation to start a business, establish a career, and raise a family.
Just three years ago, Ohio had lost 400,000 jobs, our state’s savings account had been reduced to just 89 cents, and we were staring down the barrel of a projected $8 billion budget shortfall. In that dire position, we hunkered down and got to work to put Ohio’s economy back on the right track.
Since then, Ohio’s businesses have created more than 170,000 new, private sector jobs, and we’ve streamlined our state’s regulatory environment to help businesses get started and grow. We’ve also restored our state’s savings account to a healthy $1.5 billion, and we’ve turned a record budget shortfall into a strong budget surplus. In 2013, those sound financial decisions gave us the opportunity to return that surplus to hard-working Ohioans in the form of a $2.7 billion tax cut, and we’ve begun investing again in the state’s education system, job training programs, and much needed infrastructure projects.
As the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, I’ve continued to focus my efforts this year on improving our school and higher education systems for all Ohio’s students and teachers.
Among these new initiatives, we were able to invest an additional $30 million into proven early childhood education programs that specifically benefit lower income families. We also redesigned our school funding formula, which, coupled with the new investment in early learning, works to make sure every child in Ohio has a chance at success, regardless their zip code.
In December, the Senate also approved significant reforms to the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) by passing Senate Bill 229. This legislation changes the frequency of evaluations for high performing teachers and adjusts the value-added measure of student growth to make sure we are measuring the success of our educators and students without creating undue administrative burden that takes away from valuable teaching time. We also gave greater opportunity to each school district to evaluate their students and teachers in a way that best suits the needs of their district.
We also implemented the Straight-A Fund, which provides $250 million to help schools implement new innovative and efficient programs to make absolutely certain we are investing as many dollars as possible directly into our classrooms and into our children. As a member of the Straight-A Fund oversight panel, I’m proud of the 24 recipients across Ohio, including some in our district, that have taken advantage of this important new program.
I believe that every dollar we spend in Ohio’s schools and in workforce training initiatives is a dollar invested in a healthy economy for our community. I look forward to continuing these efforts as we continue working to make Ohio stronger and more prosperous in 2014.