Gov. John Kasich said Tuesday that he would prefer to give Ohio's public colleges and universities some time to get their costs in line before the state considers whether to cut their funding.
Kasich met with community college and university presidents at the Statehouse, where he signed an executive order creating a nine-member task force to examine ways to reduce costs, share services and increase efficiencies. Panel members are expected to complete their work and issue a report by Oct. 1.
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The Republican governor's two-year budget calls for capping tuition increases at 2 percent in 2016 and freezing tuition rates in 2017. It also would create a $120 million fund aimed at reducing accumulated student debt.
"We are aware of the massive student debt — we can't fix it, but we're going to try to do some things to help you, to let you know we're aware of this problem," Kasich said as he sat at a table surrounded by college presidents.
Republicans in the Ohio Senate have said they want to see colleges cut students' costs by 5 percent.
Asked by a reporter how much he was willing in the budget to make cheaper tuition a reality, Kasich said those at the table know the challenges students face and they have taken some action.
"So I would prefer, in this course of this next nine months, 10 months, to give them a chance to do this before ... we take an ax to them," Kasich said, adding that such funding cuts could create disruption while falling short of goals.
The governor also discussed other ideas in his $72.3 billion spending plan and defended proposed changes to the K-12 school funding formula.
Kasich's budget contains a $700 million increase in foundation funding to schools. However, more than half of public school districts are getting less money from the state under the plan, largely because of funding formula changes intended to better reflect a district's capacity to raise revenue itself.
The changes result in the poorer districts tending to see increases and wealthier districts tending to see cuts, though that pattern doesn't apply in every case.
Kasich said wealthier districts could keep 100 percent of the money that they raise from local tax levies "rather than coming down here and fighting for nickels and dimes."
The governor said he understands that school funding is a "thorny and tricky" situation for lawmakers who have concerns for districts they represent. He also accused some superintendents of being "irresponsible" in their comments about his plan.
"But I think for the good of Ohio, we've got to think about providing the resources to the places where they're most needed," Kasich said.