Senate budget would change Ohio high school graduation rules

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio would establish more flexible permanent graduation requirements for high schoolers, hold its presidential primary election later in March, and require hospitals to post their standard pricing online under the latest state budget proposal.

The Republican-led Senate is expected to vote Thursday on its version of the two-year, $69 billion spending plan, which includes those and other changes.

Lawmakers have until June 30 to sort out differences between the Senate’s plan and the House version and get a budget signed by GOP Gov. Mike DeWine.

Like the plan passed by the GOP-led House, the Senate proposal would lower income taxes for individuals and direct at least $550 million toward educational wraparound services.

It would provide more funding for water quality initiatives, local governments, libraries and public television stations. It also would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, and add taxes on vaping products.

New graduation requirements beginning with the class of 2023 would require passing fewer state tests and allow for non-test alternatives toward getting a diploma.

The Senate version also includes:

— Pushing back the presidential primary to the third Tuesday after the first Monday in March.

— Allowing funding from DeWine’s proposed new “H2Ohio” water quality initiative to be used for agricultural, community and nature water projects in addition to protecting lakes and rivers.

— Permitting private charter schools to refuse admission to unvaccinated students.

— Adding more reporting and audit requirements for pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, the private companies that contract with governments to manage prescription programs.

— Authorizing and regulating peer-to-peer car sharing.

Once the Senate approves a budget, it goes to a joint legislative committee that must hash out sticking points.

Those include whether or how to change Ohio’s system for intervening in repeatedly poor-performing school districts. Current law shifts operational control from locally elected school boards to state-appointed panels and unelected CEOs. The House moved to eliminate those so-called “state takeovers,” but the Senate’s budget proposal would not.

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