Lame Duck Soup

Members of the 126th Ohio General Assembly recently packed up their bags and went home—some of them for good. But not before a flurry of activity, sometimes extending late into the night, with Republican legislators scrambling to take full advantage of the final weeks of Governor Taft’s tenure.

Perhaps the most noteworthy, and certainly the most publicized, accomplishment of this lame duck session was passage of the Ohio Core (see here and here), which toughens curriculum standards for Ohio’s high school students to better prepare them for work or college. But with so much of the spotlight on the Core, several intriguing pieces of legislation have gone largely unnoticed. Take House Bill 276 and House Bill 79, parts of which should help improve the oversight of Ohio’s charter schools. House Bill 79, among other things, established academic criteria under which the poorest performing charter schools must permanently close by July 2008. The criteria are primarily based on report card ratings of individual school performance, but factor in value-added assessment whenever possible. Such bold legislative action (much of it prompted here) was long overdue; charter schools failing to deliver academic results need to be held accountable. (Were that public schools also so held accountable.) Unfortunately, the law does not grant sponsors the ability to make a final judgment about the fate of their schools’ performances by looking at a richer set of data (see Fordham’s Sponsorship Accountability Report).

House Bill 276 allows charter schools operated by highly successful organizations such as KIPP to serve children in Ohio (in Columbus beginning in 2008-09, to be exact) by expanding the definition of charter school “operators” to include those that provide programmatic oversight and support to the school (operator status was previously granted only to groups that run the day-to-day operations of a school). The bill also creates an incentive for districts to offer high-quality charter school facilities by allowing districts to include the academic performance data of a charter school located in the district on the district’s report card. The result is a win-win situation, whereby high-performing charter schools can obtain facilities--and districts can benefit academically, by counting charter students test scores, and financially, by putting unused facilities to good use. 

Several bills that didn’t survive the legislative session will almost certainly get another shot in the 127th General Assembly. Most notably, Ohio Speaker of the House John Husted is vowing to create a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) school system (see here). Also look for action on school funding, teacher retirement healthcare costs, and charter school accountability--as well as efforts to modify the state’s accountability system. 

Yet to make any of these priorities a reality, lawmakers will have to account for one ingredient absent in December's lame duck soup: newly inaugurated Governor Strickland. While the governor is pledging his cooperation on a number of issues, education among them, one can only hope this addition won't spoil the batch. 

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