By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - For the past 11 months, Gov. Bob Taft has stressed that the state budget couldn't take any more cuts.
"We're down to flesh and bone," he said several times.
On Tuesday, Taft (pictured, above) said he believed $800,000 would be available for his campaign-year proposal to improve students' math skills.
"Whenever you have a budget the size of Ohio's, it should be possible to find that amount of money somewhere," Taft said.
As a class of fifth-graders looked on, Taft announced his proposal for MathRules!, a $14.8 million program to help Ohio math teachers and boost students' math skills. He's proposing $800,000 this year to get it started.
Taft said he hoped MathRules! would raise scores on Ohio's fourth- and 10th-grade math proficiency tests and reduce the number of college freshmen who need remedial help in math.
His proposal would create Web sites for teachers and students, pay for summer training for teachers and help districts hire math specialists for schools.
Taft likens the plan to OhioReads, a program he introduced in 1999 to recruit volunteer reading tutors for schools with low reading scores.
"We can't neglect math because math is just as important as reading to our children's success in this innovation and knowledge economy that we face," Taft said at Franklin Woods Intermediate School in suburban Columbus.
Taft said he expects to find the $800,000 from accounts where money was authorized but not spent this year.
In the 2004-05 budget, Taft will propose spending $5 million to create the program's online system, $6.5 million to increase summer training programs for teachers and $2.5 million to help schools with low math scores to hire math specialists.
The $14.8 million price tag "sounds like a lot of money," Taft said. "But compared to the entire amount of money that the state invests in state aid to schools, it's a relatively small amount."
The state spent $15.2 billion on schools for the two-year budget ending June 30.
Sen. Doug White of Manchester, the No. 2 Republican in the GOP-controlled Senate, said he needed to know more about how Taft would pay for the program.
"I have no doubt of the appropriateness of this program when it's affordable," White said Tuesday. "I would like to discuss with the governor the appropriateness of new programs, even of a small nature, when we're going to have such serious budget constraints next time."
In July, the governor announced $375 million in budget cuts to help close a $1.9 billion deficit, including $30 million in cuts to the Education Department.
Lawmakers already are concerned that the state likely will face a deficit in the next budget cycle.
"To introduce a program like this two months before an election when the state has no money concerns me," said Rep. Dean DePiero of Parma, the top-ranking Democrat in the GOP-controlled House.
First-year teacher Laura O'Neill said she liked the idea of an online math resource.
"One of the biggest challenges is trying to meet all of the students' needs. I feel like so often they're on so many different levels just within one class," said O'Neill, a fifth-grade teacher at Franklin Woods. "Something like that would give me creative ideas on how to keep our higher students challenged while providing work for our lower students to do without them getting frustrated."
Before his news conference, Taft -- who taught math as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania in the 1960s -- quizzed fifth-grade students with several math questions.
One student asked Taft if his current job was harder than past positions.
"It's more challenging, it's more difficult, there are more problems I have to address as governor," Taft said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)