Funding crisis scales back Ohio infrastructure improvements, is education next?
Ohio’s newspapers ran headlines today warning, “Money crunch pushes Downtown roadwork way back,” “Local highway projects face delays,” and “Last phase of I-75/I-475 project stalls.” The financial problems facing Ohio is scaling back big time infrastructure projects that have been in planning for years. According to the Columbus Dispatch the Ohio Department of Transportation “proposes pushing back 34 projects that had been planned to start by 2017 to dates as far off as 2036.”
Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, captured the problem when he told the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Unfortunately, this is Ohio’s new reality. For too long, previous administrations have added more and more to the list of projects knowing that there were more projects than funds available. Their poor planning has put us in the position of making the tough decisions and delivering the bad news to many communities throughout the state that there is simply not enough money to fund their projects.
In reading about the woes facing Ohio’s highway improvement efforts I couldn’t help but wonder if education in Ohio doesn’t face problems of similar scale. Despite recent cuts at both the state and local levels in the Buckeye State, have we made more promises than we can possibly meet? Ohio is in the midst of totally revamping its academic standards as part of the Common Core and this means new assessments, new curricula, new pacing guides and lots of professional development. Added to this, Ohio is putting in place new teacher evaluation systems, seeking ways to turn around its most troubled schools, and hoping to expand school choice programs of various sorts. Fordham supports all these reforms because we believe they will result in improvements in student performance.
But, all this change is suppose to happen in school systems that are strapped with collective bargaining agreements that are burdened with fixed costs that steadily increase year-to-year to deliver the same services. Consider the practice in collective bargaining agreements of step and lane annual raises of two or three percent for teachers and other staffers for just surviving another year on the job. There is no evidence that these increasing labor costs improve productivity or student achievement. In fact, as the state’s teaching force ages it may actually result in reduced productivity. Economists call this Baumol’s Disease: too often, labor-intensive organizations increase expenses without improving productivity
The fact is that Ohio, like the rest of the country, has seen inflation adjusted spending on education increase two to three percent a year for most of the last century. But, like in highway construction, we face a “new reality.” The new reality is schools and school districts are being asked to do more with less. Have we overpromised in education like we have in infrastructure development? Will we soon be seeing calls for extending needed reforms like the Common Core from 2014 to 2020 or 2024?
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May 8, 2013