Ohio's biennial budget: What the Senate should keep, fix, and scrap

The
Ohio Senate will unveil its version of the state’s biennial operating budget early next
month. As weand others – have made
clear in many venues, the members of that body have their work cut out for them
when it comes to the charter-school provisions inserted by the Ohio
House.

Governor
Kasich’s original version of the budget sought to find a
balance between expanding school choice and ensuring that schools of choice are
held accountable for their students’ performance. For instance, it expanded the
state’s EdChoice voucher program to provide immediate education options to more
students who would otherwise attend failing public schools. It also imposed a
“smart” cap on charter authorizers while removing other barriers to opening new
schools. In marked contrast, the House version significantly diminishes charter
school accountability and basically empowers school operators as the functional
equivalent of private schools unburdened by state rules and accountability
requirements.

But that’s just one small piece of a big story. Amid the clamor
over the charter provisions, too little attention has been paid—or applause
offered—for the many terrific features wrought by the governor and/or
the House. In several key areas, the House built on the solid foundation laid
out by Governor Kasich, upholding his dual goals of improving education in the
Buckeye State while helping schools and districts adjust to doing more with
less. Without raising taxes, the governor and House have proposed a balanced
budget that would free schools to manage their resources at a time when those
resources are diminished.

For example, HB 153:

  • Encourages
    the creation of innovation zones in which schools could seek waivers from many
    state regulations to achieve cost savings or efficiencies, as well as
    improvements to student achievement, by working together in new ways;
  • Promotes the
    expansion of distance learning opportunities by school districts not only as a
    potential source of cost savings, but also as a way to customize student
    learning and deliver courses currently unavailable to pupils in smaller schools
    and districts; and
  • Expands
    innovative and cost-conscious educational service centers (ESCs), while
    reducing their state subsidy, setting the conditions for ESCs to compete in
    offering professional services not only to school districts, charter and STEM
    schools, but also to municipalities, counties, and other public entities.

The House also deserves plaudits for strengthening sections of the
governor’s education budget, most notably the provisions dealing with teaching
personnel. In the governor’s budget, these reforms were headed
in the right direction, but language that would allow districts to regress and
use antiquated measures (e.g., paper credentials and
years of service) to retain and reward teachers still lurked within the new
language.

 No one envies the work confronting Ohio’s lawmakers. They
inherited an $8 billion budget shortfall and a host of tough decisions and
painful trade-offs.
 
   
 

The House dramatically improved those provisions. If the Senate
keeps them intact, and it should, teacher evaluations in Ohio will be radically
different in the coming years, as will several other personnel policies:

  • Teacher
    evaluations will incorporate students’ academic growth (50 percent); use three
    year’s worth of data when measuring such growth; and rate teachers according to
    four tiers – highly effective, effective, needs improvement, and
    unsatisfactory.
  • Principals
    will undergo similar evaluations, which will also incorporate student growth.
  • Teachers’
    level of effectiveness will determine the order of layoffs (ending the woeful,
    dysfunctional, and costly practice of “last in, first out”) with teachers who
    are rated “unsatisfactory” facing job loss first, followed by teachers rated
    “needs improvement,” and so on.
  • Principals
    will be able to reject assignment to their buildings of teachers rated
    “unsatisfactory” or “in need of improvement.”
  • Decisions
    around tenure and dismissal will be tied directly to performance evaluations,
    with teachers earning unsatisfactory ratings placed on limited contracts and
    eventually let go.

Besides such reforms of teacher policy, the House made other
thoughtful improvements. Realizing that the “parent trigger” is an untested idea (done only in one school in
California), lawmakers approached it cautiously, partnering with the Columbus City Schools
in a pilot instead of going statewide. They increased the scholarship amount for the Cleveland voucher program to match
that of the EdChoice program. This is important as the Cleveland program has
long been sorely underfunded (even when compared with Ohio’s other
school-choice programs). And in an attempt to stanch the brain drain, state
representatives also created opportunities for Ohio high
school graduates who leave the state but return within 10 years of graduation
to receive in-state college tuition rates.

No one envies the work confronting Ohio’s lawmakers. They
inherited an $8 billion budget shortfall and a host of tough decisions and
painful trade-offs. That they are now tackling these massive fiscal challenges
while also pushing needed education reforms is to their credit.

The last several weeks have seen much to-do about charter schools, due to
the House’s ill-advised budget changes in that realm. We fervently hope that the Senate makes the needed
repairs. But it is also important to note that the budget sent to the Senate by
the House contains many important reforms that deserve to be highlighted,
applauded, and retained.

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