Republicans' questions (I left part way through the first round of Republican questions) focused on teacher evaluation.
However, it was also clear that two concerns remain with the plan:
1) The Transformation Alliance
This is a separate non-profit panel that will pass judgment on the plan's implementation and also green-light future Charter School proposals in Cleveland. The concern is being most strenuously expressed by pro-Charter forces, who don't like the idea of additional oversight of their success and failure. Longtime Charter Advocate and oversight opponent Ron Adler going so far as to say in the Dispatch story about the Senate hearing,
“You don’t want to have collaboration with a gun at your back,” said Ron Adler, president of the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education. “The mayor needs to prove himself with his own schools before he takes on anything else.”Adler apparently feels no obligation to prove Charters' worth, even though less than two dozen would rate in the top half of school districts on the Performance Index score. Again, only 5 districts in the entire state did not lose money to charters last year.
To Jackson's credit, after Innovation Ohio and others expressed concerns about the Alliance's transparency, he has greatly improved that aspect of the Alliance.
2) Charter Schools receiving local revenue
This is coming from Democrats and even the Cleveland Teachers Union, which has agreed to support the plan, save this provision. Again, Charters receive about double the per pupil state money that local districts do. They receive significantly more per pupil revenue from the state than even Cleveland does. This is ostensibly because they do not receive local revenue. However, the Cleveland plan would allow them to continue collecting the larger state amounts PLUS local revenue.
This is a dangerous precedent for Ohio. It could open up the $8.5 billion raised on local property taxes for schools (compared with about $6 billion the state kicks in, including Charter and Voucher money, $5 billion of which ends up going to school districts) to go to Charters, or to be bundled together with state revenues in a new funding formula to transfer money raised for schools in Cleveland to go to schools outside Cleveland and elsewhere.
As I've said before, my greatest disappointment is the Cleveland advocates' absolute refusal to ask the state for any financial investment in the plan, especially since the Ohio Constitution and Supreme Court dictate that education funding is a state, not local responsibility. It is impossible for me to imagine how the Plan's greatest strength -- its commitment to ensure universal pre-school for all 3 and 4 year olds -- will happen if the state contributes nothing. Especially when the district's budget deficit is $65 million and state budget cuts in the last budget equalled about $60 million. The state created nearly all the financial mess in Cleveland, but it's up to folks making $22,000 a year to make up for those losses by voting to increase their taxes by $300-$400 per year, depending on their home value?
During the hearing yesterday, the Cleveland advocates also displayed a remarkable degree of naivete about the overall impact this plan will have throughout this state. Gov. Kasich has called this a potential model for urban education throughout the state at least. That made Cincinnati-area legislators cringe, for that district is the only district rated a B or higher on the state report card.
But both Jackson and Cleveland CEO Eric Gordon refused to address that. Instead, they said the idea is to make this plan work for Cleveland, its potentially great statewide impact didn't matter.
This brings me to my larger point: If local districts are left to fend for themselves, developing reform plans all on their own based on higher and higher property taxes, what exactly is the role of the state?
Perhaps that is the point, at least for this current state leadership team.