Guarded optimism for Governor Kasich's education plan

We don’t know the fine-grain details of Governor Kasich’s education plan yet, but the early indicators are promising. Many of the state’s district superintendents have reacted positively to the plan—though, without specifics, their comments remain guarded. The plan also earned praise from economist Eric Hanushek of Stanford University, who calls the governor’s plan “a significant improvement in the financing of Ohio schools.” Hanushek adds, saying that Kasich “has targeted extra funding toward achievement and has set the stage for unleashing local innovation to boost student outcomes."

A few of the promising elements that may have sparked the interest of Hanushek and others include targeted funding for innovation, a revamped funding formula, and expansions for quality school choice. Specifically, in his plan, the governor has proposed to:

  • Establish an innovation fund: Dubbed the “Straight A Fund,” this $300 million pot would provide competitive grants for one-time, innovation projects. As the Governor’s team presented it, these one-time projects may include, for example, retrofitting a school’s technology or establishing more efficient management systems.
  • Provide facilities funding for charter schools: Currently, charter schools don’t receive state dollars for facilities, meaning that charters have to pay for facilities out of their operating fund. The governor’s plan provides $100 per-pupil funding to charters for facilities, which would free charters to spend more on classroom instruction.  
  • Broaden voucher eligibility to more low-income families: Tuition vouchers to attend private schools are currently only available to students who would otherwise attend a persistently under-performing school. The governor proposes to open vouchers to any kindergartener (and later to first-graders) whose family income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Overhaul the distribution formula: Under Ohio’s current school funding plan, only property wealth is accounted for. However, property wealth doesn’t necessarily correlate to income wealth. For example, Cincinnati has high property wealth via commercial buildings, yet its residents are, on average, poor. The governor’s plan would rectify this problem by adding income into the school funding formula. This should increase the flow of state funds to impoverished areas.
  • Focus on fiscal stewardship: The Kasich education reform plan includes an emphasis on efficiency. A major pillar of governor’s plan is to compare districts’ fiscal performance, by indicating which schools get the most “bang for their educational buck”—and then learn what practices these districts use to achieve these efficiencies.

The fine print will be released next week. And we’re sure that there will be wrangling about the details: How will these concepts be implemented in practice? How will we know whether the plan—or elements of it—actually work? But, at first blush, the plan looks to be on the right track. First, the Straight A Fund promises to incentivize bold changes, both technological and process innovations. Second, the plan focuses on efficiency. Ohio’s economy remains fragile and local taxpayers are tapped out. Learning from schools that produce great results at minimal costs is an imperative. Finally, from a student-learning perspective, the Kasich plan expands quality school choice options and appears to more fairly distribute funds to Ohio students that need the aid the most.

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