Thursday, June 28, 2012

School Funding Hearings Begin

I admit. I was wrong.

The Ohio House will begin what is promised to be a series of special hearings on education funding today. I will attend and report back what I see.

When the House announced earlier this year that they would be tackling this issue a few months before everyone in the House was up for election, I was exceedingly skeptical. It takes courage to go around the state talking about education funding after making massive cuts to education in the last budget. So I though these would never happen. While surprised, I'm thrilled they are happening. Chairman Ron Amstutz should be commended for following through on these initial hearings. I always worked well with him in the House (he gave my farewell speech), and I know he's sincere about wanting to fix this problem. So I'm glad his sincerity won out over crass political cynicism. At least for the moment.

Now, I don't know what the hearings will be like. Will they be substantive? Will they allow anyone who wishes to speak? Will they be hijacked by one interest group or another? Will they serve an agenda (like justifying giving everyone $6,000 and telling them they can attend any school they want), or support the Founding Fathers' vision (including Thomas Jefferson) of public education being the heart of every Ohio community, which Alexis de Tocqueville described in Democracy in America thusly: "the originality of American civilization was most clearly apparent in the provisions made for public education"?

What I hope they become is a serious inquiry into how to properly fund our schools (including traditionals, charters and eschools), using the best, peer-reviewed research available. Since Gov. Kasich eliminated the Evidence-Based Model in the last budget (as well as about $2 billion in funding), Ohio remains the only state in the country without a funding model. That cannot continue for another two years.

The new model should help kids succeed, not simply spend the same pot of money differently. I would hope some property tax relief could result, for continuing to rely more and more on property taxes to fund schools is untenable. Finally, I hope the new system has even more evidence that it will improve student success than the EBM did.

That's what our kids deserve.