Ohio schools can expect to see federal stimulus dollars soon

Federal stimulus dollars will begin flowing into the state as early as this week, according to State Superintendent Deborah Delisle.

The money will flow through the state education department and both she, as state schools chief, and Gov. Ted Strickland must sign off on how the money is used. A second round of stimulus funding will come in October. However, while the districts theoretically have to follow the federal rules in spending the money, Delisle admitted she can't make them. How the rules are followed the first time, however, could make a difference in the second round of funding. (See more on this issue here.)

Delisle made the comments last week in a wide-ranging discussion with members of the Ohio Grantmakers Forum (see here).

Delisle said districts may receive some flexibility on mandated student-teacher ratios under the proposed revamping of Ohio's education system. Instead of trying to attain a 1-15 ratio, for example, a district may choose to use extra state money for mathematics or literacy programs or some other need.

"One of our goals is to not overwhelm districts," she said.

Delisle said she has proposed a transition plan to Strickland that would impose new requirements gradually on districts, "so districts don't feel we're dumping all of this work on them at one point."

Delisle, who has 34 years in public education and was superintendent of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district before coming to the state, has become Gov. Ted Strickland's principal cheerleader concerning an education-reform proposal that has come under increasing fire for how it would allocate state money to schools (see above), its seeming de-emphasis of core academic standards and accountability for softer and nebulous "21st century skills," and its de-funding of charter schools.

Invoking the governor's name frequently throughout the 60-minute conference call, she said Strickland wants to "push fast and furious" to boost the quality of teachers in Ohio's classrooms, establish a career ladder for teachers, and strengthen licensing requirements. Teacher unions, however, are pushing back on some parts of the plan, especially the proposals to delay tenure decisions from three years to nine years and to allow administrators to assign teachers as needed, which would be a blow to seniority provisions in union contracts.

Delisle said Ohio needs to focus on closing the achievement gap between urban and suburban students, especially on how poverty affects learning. "The governor believes the child is central in education reform," she said. "Education is key to economic recovery and development in Ohio. While many people will ask about adding jobs, focusing on education is the right focus. It looks to the future."

The plan to extend the school year to 200 days from its current 180 days is also running into opposition from amusement park owners, who depend on family vacationers, and from small business owners, who hire high school students as cheap summer help (see here).

From the other direction, the superintendent said she's been receiving complaints from parents who object to the state granting five calamity days that don't have to be made up. These parents, Delisle said, feel that the taxpayers bought and paid for 180 days of education and they should receive it.

Delisle balanced the school-year debate with information about education in some foreign nations, particularly Columbia, which she visited recently. Schools in that country are open for 200 days a year, there's a 94 percent literacy rate, and many people speak two languages.

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