Kasich's education proposals on the right track, still leave room for improvement

Following
is an excerpt of public testimony about the education provisions of House Bill
153 that Fordham’s Terry Ryan presented to the House Finance Primary and
Secondary Education Subcommittee on April 8. 
You can read his full testimony
here.

Schools and teachers matter greatly,
and this is especially true for our neediest and most vulnerable children.
Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, who recently testified before a joint meeting
of the Ohio House and Senate education committees, reports that “having a
quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially eliminate the
disadvantage of low socio-economic background.” The stakes are high and
decisions made now will have an impact on our children and their future for
years to come.

I support the education reform goals
and policies in HB153 because they focus on the dual objective of improving
K-12 education in the Buckeye State while helping schools adjust to doing more
with less. It is painfully clear that Ohio, like states across the country, has
to start figuring out how to live within its means. We cannot make education
reform continue to hinge on infusions of more cash – just the opposite. This
“new normal”—as Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Bill Gates both term it—has
been staring at us for several years now, but we’ve resisted dealing with it
because of political timidity and one-time federal stimulus dollars.

In December 2008, I wrote an op-ed for
the Cincinnati Enquirer that began:

The dismal economic news for Ohio keeps piling up. State revenues
continue to plummet and economic forecasters are predicting a shortfall of more
than $7 billion for the next two-year budget. The Buckeye State is going to
have to figure out how to do more with less. This is apt to be true for
education, where per-pupil cuts of 10 percent or more are realistic. That much
out of the statewide education budget amounts to nearly a $1.7 billion
reduction for our children.

I added:

Ohio is facing historic economic challenges. Lawmakers should seize the
opportunity to not only help the state’s education system make it through the
crisis, but make it through in a way that results in a stronger and more
effective system. Spending less on doing things as usual is a plan for
long-term failure. Now is the time for new thinking and bold action.

I then provided four ideas for trying
to take advantage of tough times to strengthen Ohio’s K-12 system while living
within our means that included:

·        
Fund students, not school districts;

·        
Encourage consolidation of services and innovative partnerships in education;

·        
Make Ohio a leader in distance learning; and

·        
Create a performance-based compensation and sustainable retirement system for

educators.

But the state ignored this advice, and
tough decisions that reared their head during the 2009 biennial budget debate
were put off two years thanks to $5.5 billion in one-time federal stimulus
dollars. Worse, former Governor Strickland’s misleading celebration of a
fundamentally-flawed education-funding scheme, which promised billions of
non-existent new dollars for schools over the next decade, made people think we
would somehow have more money for schools in the future, not less.

 Teachers and others may be forgiven for feeling like all of the
change and pain in HB 153 has come out of nowhere because the state
political leadership was largely in denial around the looming fiscal
crisis before the start of this year.

 
   
 

So, instead of using the now-ending
federal aid to help set the conditions for making schools work on leaner
rations, the state moved forward for two years with its head in the sand about
the impending fiscal cliff we were racing toward. Teachers and others may be
forgiven for feeling like all of the change and pain in HB153 has come out of
nowhere because the state political leadership was largely in denial around the
looming fiscal crisis before the start of this year. At least now state
government is dealing with reality, and that reality is undeniably tough. Some
recent poll ratings may attest to that fact.

HB153 spreads the unavoidable pain
across school districts in a reasonably equitable fashion. It cuts the poorest
districts less than the wealthier suburbs, thus trying to protect our neediest
children. It cuts public charter school funding by $50 a student but doesn’t
eviscerate them, which is fitting considering how egregiously underfunded they
already are in comparison with their district peers. Most importantly, the
budget pushes reforms that seek to free up school districts to do more with
less.

Not everyone regards greater autonomy
as a sufficient compensation for less money but, as we learned from a recent
Fordham Institute survey of Ohio school superintendents and charter heads,
having the flexibility to allocate available resources in the most educational
efficacious way would be a huge help to otherwise-strapped districts and
charter schools.

Read
the full testimony
here.

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