ODE ends year down $157.5 million

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) ended the year down $157.5 million after a third round of spending cuts announced in December lopped another $30.4 million from its budget (see here). Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has cut $1.9 billion in state spending through June 30 as he tries to align spending with revenues. A skirmish over the first round of cuts, in January 2008, was the rumored impetus for Strickland's State-of-the-State power play against former state school Superintendent Susan Zelman (see here). The governor didn't get control over ODE as he'd hoped, but says he is pleased with the appointment of the new state Superintendent, Deborah S. Delisle (see here). This round of cuts marks one of Delisle's first big challenges in her new job, but her recommendations offer little insight into where she'd like to take K-12 education.

As with the previous budget reductions, certain line items were held harmless, including foundation funding, pupil transportation, gifted education, special education, and career-tech education. A handful of initiatives, like early childhood education, received small or no cuts, and three line items saw cuts of greater than 12 percent (literacy professional development, educator preparation, and STEM). For the most part, the cuts are shared across the board, with Delisle recommending reductions of four to eight percent to all state-funded line items (see here), similar to what Zelman put forth last January and in September.

Across-the-board cuts are generally not based on value or performance, yet they are viewed as "fair" because they spread the pain equally among offices and programs. When it comes to trimming an education budget toward the end of a biennium and in the middle of the school year this approach might make sense. But it's not much of plan for addressing an expected $7-billion-plus hole in the state's next two-year budget (see here) while also trying to improve overall school performance or at least maintain it. The state should start its cuts by focusing on what works and eliminate what doesn't or what is redundant. This, of course, is not easy and will offend all manner of special interests.

Strickland won't have the luxury of reducing spending by some percentage across the board in order to balance Ohio's fiscal year 2010-2011 budget. Even with a federal bailout (see here), he will face tough decisions about shuttering offices, ending programs, and letting employees go at all state agencies, ODE included.

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