2008: What a year it was

Suzannah Herrmann, Ph.D.

Ohio educated 1.7 million public school students in 2008, a year marked by the continued decline in urban enrollment (falling 19 percent from 2003 to 2008). The state's ailing economy also continued to show its fangs with 37 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, up from 31 percent five years ago. Students with limited English ability have doubled since 2003. One in 50 Ohio students is now limited English proficient. Last year, charter school enrollment climbed to 82,600 students, up from 33,700 in 2003.

January

  • Ohio started the year with a B-minus rating from Education Week's Quality Counts 2008 Report. The national report found the state's children start school less prepared for success than their peers nationally. The state does a decent job of investing in its children and has high marks for spending equity. The greatest challenge continues to be the education gap between rich and poor, and whites and minorities.
  • Gov. Ted Strickland announced $733 million in state government spending cuts, including for the Ohio Department of Education. Two more round of cuts would eventually be announced. 

February

  • In his State of the State address, Gov. Strickland called for diminishing the role of the State Board of Education, the ouster of then-Superintendent Susan Zelman, and the appointment of a state education czar who would report directly to the governor.

March

  • The federal Internal Revenue Service began an investigation of Ohio's largest for-profit charter operator, White Hat Management. The Ohio Federation of Teachers had questioned whether the 31 schools overseen by White Hat are truly governed by independent boards as required by state law. 

April

  • Adding money to melodrama, the Ohio Elections Commission fined the political action committees "All Children Matter" and "All Children Matter-Virginia" $2.6 million each for allegedly funneling money to Ohio Republican candidates in an illegal manner in 2006 (see here). The groups appealed the finding, but money to Ohio political races in 2008 fell off sharply.
  • On the heels of his much-praised 10-year strategic plan for the state's higher education system, Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut pushed state universities to provide data allowing the public to compare academic performance across universities and colleges in Ohio and with other schools across the country (see here and here).

May

  • Mitch Chester, senior associate superintendent for policy and accountability at the Ohio Department of Education left Ohio to become the education commissioner in Massachusetts. Chester had helped to build the Buckeye State's standards and accountability system over the past decade.

June

  • The biennial capital appropriations and budget corrections bill (see here) made several changes to education law, including allowing nonpublic schools (parochial and other private schools) to make purchases through low-cost contracts negotiated by the Department of Administrative Services. The bill also allowed Educational Service Centers (ESC) to convert all or part of an existing building operated by the ESC into a charter school, provided that the ESC's governing board serves as the school's sponsor.
  • The Ohio General Assembly approved legislation allowing for the firing of teachers and other educators when they commit certain criminal offenses. The bill was a follow up to legislation approved in 2007 in response to a Columbus Dispatch newspaper series. 

July

  • The State Board of Education approved a "vision document" spelling out objectives and strategies to help Ohio meet its 10-year goal that "all students will graduate well prepared for success" (see here).
  • Gov. Strickland launched his "Governor's Conversation on Education" series and would ultimately meet with 12 groups across the state.  

August

  • ODE Associate Superintendent Paolo DeMaria joined the Ohio Board of Regents as Chancellor Fingerhut's right-hand man. DeMaria was the department's top school funding expert.
  • Ohio's first KIPP school, KIPP: Journey Academy, opened in Columbus (see here).
  • ODE released local report cards incorporating "value-added" data to gauge how much progress a school's students made in reading and math over the course of one year compared to state expectations. A Fordham Institute analysis of report card data showed schools in the state's largest cities continued to struggle to help students meet basic academic standards (see here).  

September

  • Ohio cut $540 million in state government spending.
  • The Public Broadcasting System aired Where We Stand, featuring four Ohio schools that exemplify America's urgent need to reform education. Still, there is hope, according to the program. The Columbus METRO School (see here) was highlighted as a positive example.
  • The Montgomery County Common Pleas Court dismissed a suit against one of four charter schools sued by then-Attorney General Marc Dann for allegedly violating the state's charitable trust laws (see here). Dann, who resigned in May as the result of scandal in his office, had filed the suits because, he charged, the low-performing schools violated their "charitable" mission as 501(c)3 organizations.  

October

  • Deborah S. Delisle, superintendent of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools, was selected by the State Board of Education as Ohio's 35th superintendent of public instruction (see here).

November

  • Democrats take control of the Ohio House, for the first time in 14 years, with a 53-46 majority. The Democrats rode the coattails of President-elect Obama and benefitted from national angst with President Bush, two wars, and an economy in tailspin.
  • School levies in Dayton, Columbus, Toledo, and Youngstown are passed, while statewide results are mixed.

 December

  • Gov. Strickland announces a third round of spending cuts for the year, this time $640 million. Total cuts for the year: $1.9 billion, including $157.5 million in Ohio Department of Education reductions. 
  • The second round of the "Governor's Conversation on Education" is launched and it focused on "fixing" school funding. The meetings were conducted as the governor faces a projected $7.2 billion shortfall in the next two-year state budget.

And coming up in 2009...

We're all anxious to learn the governor's education plans. If nothing else, Ohio's economic challenges will provide the environment for political risk-taking and bold leadership. Will the governor and legislative leaders seize the opportunity or will business-as-usual prevail? We'll keep you informed.