What a difference a few days makes. Ever since the release of district by district projections of Kasich's so-called "Achievement Everywhere" plan, it has been panned, typically by those who used to support it. And contrary to Kasich's spin, that's not because districts want more money. It's because the plan does the exact opposite of what Kasich promised. It sends huge increases to rich districts at the expense of poor ones.
Which brings us to today's hearing before the House Finance and Appropriations Committee. Kasich's Education Czar Dick Ross and Education Funding Czar Barbara Mattei-Smith spent six hours defending their decision to give up on trying to figure out what resources our kids need to succeed in the classroom and beyond, instead trying to distribute admittedly inadequate funds equitably.
Here are several reasons why I'm worried, if I'm Kasich:
1) Some of the most pointed and passionate objections to the plan came from his own party, especially from new state Rep. Ryan Smith. And it wasn't until the second-to-last question that any member of the panel actually said anything really good about the plan. Any defense of the plan was stated as a swipe against former plans, never an affirmative statement about how great this one was.
2) Judging from Chairman Ron Amstutz's long leash on questions, he's not exactly enthralled with the thing either.
3) District Superintendents are in open revolt against the plan, with one actually writing a letter to residents asking them to actively seek to campaign against Kasich and anyone else who supports him.
4) Mattei-Smith and Ross' answers to Member questions consisted of two primary points: If districts are seeing flat funding (after huge cuts from the last budget), then they can all compete for $300 million in "innovation" money. Of course, 365 districts are flat funded, so the competition will be fierce. And second, any financial hardship districts have is their own and previous administrations' faults for daring to promise future resources to those districts -- promises that this administration and General Assembly affirmatively declined to fulfill.
I was struck by how often Ross and Mattei-Smith would explain how folks in Appalachia Ohio districts like Noble just don't understand how wealthy they are and it's up to them to sacrifice state funds so districts like Olentangy, which raise 25 times as much local revenue per unit of taxation, receive more state resources.
I've embedded a picture of a Noble County Home and one in Olentangy. It defies logic to say that Noble County -- Ohio's smallest county by population -- needs fewer resources so Olentangy -- located in Delaware County, Ohio's fastest growing -- can receive more. Yet that was the argument Mattei-Smith and Ross made time and again; that places like Noble County were so property wealthy that they would have to sacrifice so that a "property poor" district like Olentangy (yes, Mattei-Smith said Olentangy, which raises $3.2 million on a mill of property tax is "property poor" and Noble, which raises $125,000 is not) can draw down more state aid.
Noble County Home
This attitude toward local school districts and their alleged ignorance of the realities in their own communities really grated on me. I can't imagine what it will do for the local officials. Though I have an idea. Take a look at the letter written to the Franklin City Schools community by the District Superintendent, Arnol Elam, who said in the letter that "Governor John Kasich was untruthful last week, and in doing so, finally clarified that kids in poor school districts don't count."
He urged his residents to "join me in an active campaign to ensure that Gov. Kasich and any legislator who supports him are not re-elected." And this is in Warren County which voted 70-30 for Mitt Romney.
All in all, not a particularly great day for Kasich and his plan. I'll get into more detail about the plan in upcoming posts. But I thought it important to give an overall impression of today's hearing.