Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 2, Number 29
December 17, 2008
Public pension funds threaten us all
News and Analysis
Arne Duncan a good choice to bridge education differences
News and Analysis
So we're doing better (what a relief), but, yikes, still falling behind?
Terry Ryan / December 17, 2008
The dismal economic news for Ohio keeps piling up. State revenues continue to plummet and economic forecasters are predicting a shortfall, at best, of more than $7 billion for the next two-year budget. Buckeye State government is going to have to figure out how to do more with less. This is particularly true for education, where per pupil cuts of at least 10 percent are likely. Last week, Gov. Strickland even trotted out the cataclysmic possibility of a 25-percent across-the-board cut in spending for all departments, including education (see here). That much out of the education budget amounts to more than a $4 billion reduction in spending for our children.
Kudos to the governor for trying to focus our attention, but whether we're talking about nearly $2 billion or-God forbid-more than $4 billion in cuts, it is now time to take a serious look at what we spend money on and how we spend it. It is time to revolutionize our thinking on spending-from the state superintendent's office to the school boiler room. Tough economic times make possible political decisions and actions that aren't feasible during ordinary times. These are extraordinary times. Done thoughtfully, and equitably, we can develop a plan that can actually strengthen and improve the state's school system over the long haul. Here are four ideas for taking advantage of tough times to strengthen Ohio's K-12 system and help it run more effectively:
- Fund the child, not
Lamar Alexander / December 17, 2008
State Rep. Larry Wolpert, R-Hilliard, is completing his fourth term in the Ohio House and will leave the General Assembly because of term limits. Fearful of what looming public pension fund deficits would mean to future state budgets, he introduced House Bill 645 (see here) requiring that new public employees be enrolled in so-called defined-contribution pension plans, rather than the defined-benefit plans that are dominant now for teachers and school administrators. Wolpert shares his case for this change below. These comments do not necessarily reflect those of the Ohio Education Gadfly and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, but we think they are important to share with our readers. In fact, we recently issued a report on the State Teachers Retirement System and have commented on this issue in the past (see here).
In the last century at the height of the Industrial Age, it was common for employers to provide workers with pension benefits. Most of these pensions were based on a defined benefit: that is, a specific pension amount was based on years worked and salary earned. Now, in the 21st century, it's becoming apparent that a defined-benefit pension program creates major liabilities for employers (including public-sector employers) and, in many instances, these liabilities cannot be met (see New York City as an example here). To remain competitive and still provide workers with a pension benefit, many private-sector pension plans have been converted to defined-contribution plans-plans
Mike Lafferty / December 17, 2008
Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr., Tuesday, hailed President-elect Barack Obama's pick for education secretary.
Obama tapped Arne Duncan, who has headed the Chicago school system for the last seven years. Duncan, 44, earned a reputation for pushing hard for better schools, including charter schools, in Chicago while at the same time reaching out to teachers, parents, and the business community (see here).
"Arne Duncan is a terrific pick, and not just because he's close to the President-elect and speaks Chicago-ese. He's a proven and committed and inventive education reformer, not tethered to the public-school establishment and its infinite interest groups, nor bedazzled by blandishments and commands from Washington," Finn said (see here).
Duncan will need all his experience to resolve the disagreements among education advocates, teachers unions, and civil rights groups concerning improving America schools (see here).
The Gadfly likes many of Duncan's initiatives. Under his leadership, charter schools in the nation's third-largest school district were expanded (while also held accountable for results) and performance-pay was introduced. He also supports recruiting people as teachers who have little classroom experience but solid academic backgrounds. In 2006, he called on Congress to substantially boost funding for the No Child Left Behind Act. Under Duncan, more Chicago students are taking challenging courses and student results on the Illinois state achievement tests have gone up.
Mike Lafferty / December 17, 2008
The fifth in the series of biennial national and state-by-state report cards for higher education is out this month. Ohio, like much of the nation, is doing better, as usual, but not good enough.
Technically, it's called National Report Card on Higher Education but we like the short version-Measuring Up 2008 (see here). The report is issued by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.
Much of the report seems same-old, same-old, although, like a really frightening horror movie it still scares the stuffing out of you each time you read it. It certainly ought to be scary reading for Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, who has ambitions of expanding enrollment in the state's colleges and universities by 230,000 students (see here). The new report reveals plenty of roadblocks a very able Fingerhut will have to circumvent, including an already prostrate state budget for the next biennium.
For Ohio (see here), the report finds that eighth graders perform well in science, math, and reading but don't write well at all; blacks still lag substantially behind whites in high-school graduation rates, college enrollment, and in attaining college degrees. We get a B-minus for student preparation.
Overall college-enrollment rates for Ohio high schoolers are at the national average. The chances of a high-school freshman enrolling in college by age 19 are fair but adult enrollment is low. What's really disturbing, although not surprising, is that college is completely out
Emmy L. Partin / December 17, 2008
The Buckeye Institute
The Buckeye Institute is the latest organization to weigh in on how to improve Ohio's school-funding system. Its recommendation: fund education through a statewide property tax and distribute the funding via a free market, universal voucher system. Under this system, per-pupil dollars would be sent to parents in the form of payment vouchers that parents would then give to the school their child attends-be it a district, charter, or private school. Per-pupil funding would be weighted based on a child's educational needs and include a facilities component. Schools would still be permitted to charge tuition above the public funding level, but a privately funded tuition tax credit scholarship would be available to "promising or deserving" students who want to attend a more costly school. Likewise, if a child enrolled in a school that charged less than the public voucher amount, his family could use the money for tutoring, educational books or materials, or approved education services.
The notion of funding students, not schools, staff, or programs, is a smart one and a primary tenet of weighted student funding, for which Fordham has long-advocated (see here and here), and Ohio would do well to expand quality school choices. But, accountability must accompany choice, something this report leaves out. A Child-Centered Solution to School Finance in Ohio calls for minimal regulation of schools, asserting that "nearly 2 million children and their parents, free to choose