March 18, 2011; Source: Stateline | Why do state universities in Ohio like Governor John Kasich's proposal to cut higher education spending by 10.5 percent? Ohio's state universities seem happy with the Governor's proposal because the governor accompanied the budget cut with a promise of freedom from state regulation in exchange for the lower subsidies.

Is it worth losing one out of every 10 dollars of state funding? Apparently so. Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee looks forward to the regulatory freedom that would allow for "reconfiguring and reinventing our institution." Kasich says that he is making state schools into "charter universities." It means less state funding, leading to more reliance on private funding. Rich Novak of the Association of Governing Boards says that the "holy grail" for the charter universities is "full tuition autonomy," meaning that schools like Ohio State could be freed from mandated in-state admission numbers and allow for a lot more out-of-state students paying much higher out-of-state tuitions.

Some critics, however, like Sara Kaminski of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors might interpret full tuition autonomy as "reneg(ing) on the state's commitment to provide an affordable education." The argument sounds much like the debates over charter schools in public school systems. Although Kasich is a Republican, the support for this idea may be as bipartisan as the support for charter schools.

Kasich's counterparts in Wisconsin, Oregon, and Louisiana are toying with similar ideas. One wonders what other core governmental functions might find themselves reinvented as privatized "charters," trading government funding for regulatory freedom.—Rick Cohen