New legislative session kicks off with a bang -- several education bills on the table
It’s been a while since Gadfly buzzed about legislative hearings or new bills, what with the past legislature renowned for its inactivity. But the new 129th General Assembly already has several education bills in the works, so expect Gadfly to be reporting on capital matters over the coming months.
HB 21 – Virtual charter schools, value-added data, and Teach For America graduates. Sponsored by Rep. Courtney Combs (R-Butler County), the bill is a recycled version of last year’s HB 312 and SB 180 (legislation aiming to make Ohio more competitive for Race to the Top funds, and for which we testified in support). While SB 180 was passed by the Senate, neither bill made it anywhere in the House.
The basic components of the legislation are well-intentioned, but limited. HB 21 would:
- Lift the ironclad moratorium on charter e-schools and replace it with a performance-based vetting process, which makes good policy sense. If a charter school authorizer wishes to open a new e-school, it must have a track record of authorizing success. Specifically, at least one of the charter schools it sponsors must be rated Continuous Improvement or higher. While this metric is imperfect (for example, if a sponsor has 10 schools rated D or F and only one rated C – that’s not exactly “successful”) it at least extends a performance-based cap to e-schools similar to what applies to new bricks-and-mortar charter schools while also opening the market to new virtual providers. This is a good thing as this is one of most innovative and rapidly expanding sectors in public education.
- Require the use of student performance data in evaluating teachers and principals for licensure. For teachers in grades 4-8 and in reading and math, Ohio’s value-added data will be the primary growth measure; for other teachers, a “standardized measure of improvement in student achievement” will be “designated by the superintendent of public instruction.” While the sentiment behind this is right – teachers should be evaluated based on student growth – the bill also leaves in place many nonsensical requirements for various tiers of licensure, such as holding a master’s degree. Stipulations to require student growth metrics in teacher evaluations should be part of a fresh teacher evaluation overhaul bill. Keep in mind that the Republican-controlled legislature can push for bolder changes to teacher evaluations; lawmakers don’t need to stick with recycled legislative language from last session that, by virtue of Democratic control of the House, was palatable to both parties and therefore more vanilla.
- Grant a professional educator license to alums of Teach For America - teachers who’ve successfully taught low-income students in another state (Ohio currently doesn’t have a TFA site) and would like to teach here. While the 129th General Assembly should go much further and actually change alternative licensure rules to pave the way for alternative talent pathways like TFA to take root in Ohio, this small provision to let alums teach here is an excellent way to retain talent in low-income areas as well as to battle the state’s brain drain.
HB 30 – School funding. Perhaps the most-talked-about education bill so far, HB 30, sponsored by Rep. Randy Gardner (R-Wood County), would eliminate significant requirements from HB 1 (Gov. Strickland’s “evidence-based” funding model). Specifically, it abolishes of the School Funding Advisory Council, as well as universal all-day kindergarten mandates, requirements for school districts to create “family and civic engagement teams,” and other reporting requirements. File this piece of legislation under both “least surprising” and “most convenient to cash-strapped school districts.” Despite the fact that many district leaders expressed support for these components of the EBM in theory, they were viewed as unfunded mandates, and nothing troubles school leaders more than that ugly phrase.
HB 36 – Calamity days. Co-sponsored by Reps. Casey Kozlowski (R-Pierpont) and John Carey (R-Wellston), the bill would give back two calamity days to Ohio schools districts while also granting schools more authority to lengthen the school day to make up those missed days. Although giving flexibility to districts and schools to determine for themselves how to make up for lost time is commendable (let’s see that kind of autonomy doled out elsewhere in K-12 education), upping excusable calamity days from three to five would be a bad move. We’ve argued before that Ohio’s students simply can’t afford lost instructional time; if anything, the Buckeye State should be moving in the opposite direction – to lengthen the instructional time available to students. No one’s arguing that districts in the midst of a snowstorm can’t cancel school, just that they should make up instructional time beyond three excused days. Rep. Carey said that justifications for the bill included “safety and financial concerns” (Gongwer News; subscription required) but excusing two extra calamity days does nothing to save money, as teachers and principals are still paid for missed days. If anything, it’s wasteful budgeting and lost learning opportunities for children.
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