By Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writer
MEDINA: Gov. John Kasich used his State of the State address in Medina on Monday night to outline an aggressive agenda on education.
He wants to attack the dropout rate by providing job training, create a new mentorship program that would be funded through casino money, start vocational education in seventh grade and provide veterans with college and academic credits.
“I’m with you. Yes!” Kasich said as he earned a standing ovation for his veterans’ proposal — one of several affirmations during his hour-long address at the 1,133-capacity Medina High School Performing Arts Center. “It’s unbelievable we haven’t done this.”
Kasich capped his speech by awarding Ohio Courage medals to Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, three young women who were held captive for years in Cleveland. He put medals over each woman’s neck and gave each a big hug.
“They emerged as victors — not as victims,” he told a stunned crowd.
Kasich spoke before a joint session of the Ohio House and Senate, with the legislators, staff and cabinet members making up the bulk of the audience. The governor had a lottery for public tickets, but only 50 of the more than 1,100 people who requested tickets received them. Many others, however, watched in an overflow area in the Medina High School gymnasium, where the speech was streamed live.
The speech completed a day filled with activities to highlight Medina County, including tours of local companies, a legislative committee hearing, a guided tour of the Medina Square and receptions for legislators at local restaurants hosted by prominent area businesses.
Not everyone, though, welcomed Kasich to town. Outside the high school, more than 300 protesters, including union members, public educators and environmental activists, held a rally before and during the event. They dubbed the protest “The Real State of Ohio.”
Kasich spent the day preparing for the speech. He posted on Twitter that he had dinner at Bob Evans in Medina, enjoying chicken and noodles. He practiced at the podium about 5 p.m. and took a picture backstage with his family just before the speech.
Kasich said one of the reasons he chose Medina for his speech was to pay tribute to House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, who is in his final year in the legislature, barred from running again because of term limits. The governor announced a present for Batchelder during his speech — the renaming of the Medina post of the state Highway Patrol after Batchelder.
Kasich began his speech by pointing to the accomplishments from his first term, including addressing an $8 billion budget deficit, cutting taxes and eliminating the estate tax, and creating the controversial JobsOhio program, a private economic development group. He acknowledged, though, that there’s still much that needs done.
Kasich proposed further tax cuts, reducing Ohio’s income tax rate below 5 percent, made possible by reforming the state’s severance tax on oil and gas drilling, along with other tax reforms.
Kasich said he will be sending ideas to the legislature for reaching out to kids at risk for dropping out of high school and will encourage school districts to come up with their own ways of helping these teens. He said one alternative is on-the-job training, rather than a traditional classroom environment.
“I hope we can do this for these young people,” he said.
Kasich is proposing using $10 million in casino licensing fees to start Community Connectors, a matching program to support mentorship efforts that bring together parents, community organizations, faith-based groups and businesses.
“There was somebody who taught you how to be successful, how to dream,” he said. “We need to do that for our children all across the state of Ohio. Will you help? I sure hope so.”
Kasich also would like to start vocational education in seventh grade rather than high school and wants to see college credit offered in high school across the state instead of just in certain areas.
In the area of higher education, Kasich said, university presidents have agreed that universities should be funded, not based on enrollment, but based on students completing courses and getting degrees. Kasich also is proposing to give Ohio veterans no-cost academic credit for their training and experience and to ensure they receive financial support for professional license and certificate tests.
Kasich acknowledged that his proposals were expansive and were coming in an election year when lawmakers might not be keen to take on tough issues.
“If you voted for me or if you didn’t, I’m your governor,” he said. “This is my life. This is my mission.”
Kasich’s ideas didn’t go over well with minority legislative leaders, who claimed he painted a rosier picture of the current situation in Ohio than is warranted and took credit for some ideas they have proposed or championed.
“Ask him to please tell it like it is,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni. “His actions don’t match the words he’s spoken.”
Several Summit County officials were spotted at the speech, including former Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart, Akron school board member Tim Miller and George Johnson, president of the Akron chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Johnson, a Democrat, said he attends the governor’s speech every year.
“I come with an open mind,” he said.
Medina High School’s show choir performed in the lobby, serenading people as they arrived. Assistant Director Katie Peyton said the 36 students, who are freshmen to seniors, were nervous, but excited.
“They’re hoping Kasich hears them out of the corner of his ear,” she said.