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There are ways to mitigate school cuts

With fiscal 2020 now history, the task of keeping budgets balanced during the year that began Wednesday begins for local and state government officials. Damage to the economy from COVID-19 — some of it possibly permanent — will make that difficult.

At one point, Ohio officials were struggling to deal with a $1 billion hole in the state budget, caused by revenue declines that in turn traced to business slowdowns and shutdowns. That task was achieved, but at a cost.

Gov. Mike DeWine quite properly ordered $775 million in state spending cuts to keep the budget in balance. At the same time, he left the state’s $2.7 billion emergency “Rainy Day Fund” untouched.

About $300 million in spending cuts were in state support for public schools. As we have noted previously, school systems will be able to deal with that level of reductions, though it will not be easy.

Continuing reductions in state aid may be another matter, however. They could force cutbacks in education quality — and that is something Ohioans should want to avoid. The effects could affect the futures of hundreds of thousands of students.

The reluctance of DeWine and legislators to tap the Rainy Day Fund is understandable. But surely COVID-19’s damage to the state economy qualifies as a very rainy day — or few years.

At least as the new fiscal year begins, state aid to public schools should be restored to normal levels. Should state revenue indicate more budget woes lie ahead, as they may, DeWine and state legislators should consider withdrawing some of the Rainy Day money to avoid new cuts to K-12 education in Ohio.

Such a plan need not restore state aid to 100 percent of pre-coronavirus levels. Surely school districts can absorb some cuts without diminishing the quality of education. But in consultation with education leaders, DeWine and lawmakers should establish a floor for state aid and, if necessary, go into the Rainy Day Fund to make that happen. It would be taxpayers’ money invested appropriately.

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