All-day kindergarten mandate and rating system up for changes

Senate Bill 173, sponsored by Senator Gary Cates (R-West Chester), would delay for one year a major tenet of Governor Strickland’s education reform plan and marks the legislature’s first attempt to address problems with implementing the mandates in the evidence-based school funding model.

The mandate that districts provide all-day kindergarten – along with other requirements in House Bill 1 – would be postponed until the 2011-12 school year under the bill, which was introduced amid concerns that compulsory all-day kindergarten without an adequate infusion of state funding creates an unfunded mandate that would exacerbate financial strains on school districts (see interview above).

SB 173 would require districts that choose not to offer all-day kindergarten in 2010-11 to submit a plan explaining how they’ll meet the requirement in 2011-12. Without this legislation, districts rated Excellent or Effective by the state can apply to the Ohio Department of Education for waivers to delay the start of all-day kindergarten, though the details of the waiver process have not been finalized and there is no guarantee the education department would approve such requests.

SB 173, which was passed by the Senate education committee, has the support of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) and the State Board of Education. At its November meeting the board voted 15-1 to pass a resolution expressing support of the bill.

However, soon after meeting with staffers from the governor’s office (see here) board president Deborah Cain released a letter attempting to clarify the board’s position. Cain said that while she recognizes districts’ financial obstacles, she was “concerned that taking a proponent position on Senate Bill 173 does not accurately reflect a majority of the Board’s support for all-day, every-day kindergarten.”

The Senate education committee also amended Senate Bill 167 (also proposed by Sen. Cates), which deals with the way the state rates school districts. The original bill was intended to tighten up the rating of Continuous Improvement on both ends and thereby make Ohio’s academic rating system more meaningful and credible (see our analysis of the original legislation here and here).

In addition to specifying that student sub-groups not making AYP must be the same from year to year for a district to be penalized, Senate Bill 167 sought to minimize a district’s fall in the rankings, designating Effective (a “B”) as the lowest category for an otherwise high-performing district like Kettering City Schools. At the same time, the bill lowered the worst possible ranking to Academic Watch (a “D”) for a district making AYP; districts like Marion City Schools, which met zero of 30 indicators, would no longer get an automatic bump up to “C.” Basically, the bill would have assigned more accurate grades to both high-performing districts and low-performing districts and would have enhanced the overall credibility of the academic rating system.

However, in its newly amended version, the bill now only protects high-performing districts not meeting AYP from seeing their rating drop several levels in one year. While this is still good news for districts like Kettering and Lebanon who were catapulted from Excellent with Distinction to Continuous Improvement last year, it fails to address the imprecision of giving a “C” to a district like Marion City Schools that failed to make any academic indicators. In its current form, Senate Bill 167 at best only tinkers with fixing the rating system. The bill will save face for higher-performing districts and lets lawmakers avoid tough decisions about how to fairly rate low-performing school systems. This is a shame and a lost opportunity.

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