When I heard that Gov. John Kasich’s budget had an increase in school funding, I was encouraged. I was also naïve. Closer inspection reveals there is no increase in basic aid for our schools. In fact, virtually every school district in Southeastern Ohio is either flat funded (no increase) or actually loses state dollars in the governor’s proposed budget.
Further, for all the talk of innovation and great change, the budget proposal simply freezes in place current education policy. Policy that has failed to improve student achievement.
With this in mind, I want to offer three easy, no cost actions lawmakers could take to increase local school funding, save the state money, and improve student achievement.
First, end the transfer of local tax dollars to electronic charter schools (e-schools).
Most Ohioans are unaware of how these transfers work, assuming the e-schools are funded with only state dollars. When these schools continue to perform poorly or are caught cheating on student enrollment, local taxpayers bemoan poor state monitoring but think the scandals do not effect them. Not so.
Using my district as an example here is how local tax dollars are funneled to these failing schools. When a child enrolls from us into an e-school, the state deducts $7,173 from our district and sends it to the e-school. But of that, only $3,268 is state funding, the rest comes from local tax dollars. Funds that our local taxpayers provide, believing they support local public schools, are sent to e-schools where there are no buses, lunches, special education teachers, guidance counselors, sports teams, gyms, or libraries.
The simple solution would be to only transfer state dollars, after all this is a program approved by the state legislature, not by local communities. Given all the services these schools do not provide, it is only reasonable that they receive less funding. Taking my district as an example again, this simple change would provide an additional $90,000 in our annual budget, all of it local tax money. While this is less than a 1 percent increase in funding it would be enough to buy a new bus, or hire an additional teacher, or cover our textbook purchases for two years, or even give all our employees a 1 percent raise. All without raising local taxes or increasing what the state provides us.
Bottom line, local dollars should be spent locally.
Second, the legislature should act to reduce the number of tests Ohio school children take to the minimum required by federal legislation.
Many Ohioans blame the federal government for how many tests their children prepare for and take. Some of the blame does lie there, as in order to get federal dollars the state must administer 17 tests at multiple grade levels. However, in Ohio we require 27 tests!
Lowering the number of tests our children take to the federal requirement would save somewhere in the neighborhood of $45 million per year. Further, eliminating these extra tests will allow local school districts to stop spending money on test preparation materials, tutors, and teacher time — all which can be reinvested in teaching for learning, not teaching for testing.
The new federal education law encourages states to reduce testing, and our legislature has mandated less time spent on them. But given this opportunity, Ohio’s education bureaucrats propose to change, well, nothing. Why not?
Third, the Resident Educator Program (RESA) begun in 2011 has yet to yield any positive results and should be terminated.
Started with much fanfare, RESA is a four-year program of mentoring and testing that was to improve the quality of Ohio teachers. Initially the state provided some funding to districts to help pay mentors, training, materials, supervisors and more. Now the state provides nothing. So far, as is often the case in the evidence-free zone of education reform, no data has been provided that RESA has improved the quality of Ohio’s teachers.
Since the local districts are paying all the costs on this program anyway, why not just eliminate it and let districts choose how they best want to mentor and develop teachers? Then the legislature could eliminate the Ohio Department of Education office that runs the program. This would save dollars and time at the local level and eliminate what has to be several million dollars in ODE’s budget.
There they are, three simple steps that require no new bureaucrats, no new forms or reports, and no new taxes. At the same time we increase funding and autonomy to local districts, cut back on the time our kids spend taking tests of limited value, give teachers more time to teach, and save millions of dollars in the state education budget.
I guess I am naïve enough to suggest some new thinking in Columbus.
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George Wood is superintendent of Federal Hocking Local Schools, a resident of Amesville and a member of The Messenger’s Board of Contributors.