Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ohio Gov Makes 1/50th the Commitment to Community Engagement as Predecessor. Gets Ovation.

I haven't spoken much on this blog about the Evidence-Based Model of school funding. When elections are lost, the victors have the right to change that which they see fit to change. And when Gov. John Kasich and his legislative allies took power in 2011, the first thing they changed was the Evidence-Based Model -- perhaps the signature accomplishment of his predecessor, Ted Strickland.

I have to admit it kind of hurt. After all, I missed the last two months of my wife's last pregnancy and the first month of my new son's life to improve the EBM to the point that it received the Frank Newman Award from the Education Commission of the States, which is given every year to the state who produces the most bold, innovative and non-partisan education reform of the year.

For those of you who don't care about funding formulas, essentially the EBM stood for the premise that the state should figure out what kids need to succeed, then commit to funding it. It was based on a peer-reviewed formula published in an MIT journal. It also had evidence for each of the elements it sought to fund. It didn't help that the thing was passed at the height of the Great Recession, but it did. So we had to fund it over 10 years. It was far from perfect, but it was a vast improvement over the previous system, which had been ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court on four separate occasions.

But Kasich and his allies made destroying the EBM one of their top priorities, killing it within weeks of taking power. After two years of study, Kasich proposed his own school funding plan, which was so rife with issues (see this space from last spring) that the legislature run by his own party essentially killed that model too, proving just how hard it is to properly fund schools.

Which brings me to last night's State of the State address. In it, Kasich announced a new, $10 million commitment to engage the community and families in education across this state for what he called a dropout initiative. When he asked for support from everyone in the room, the room stood up and applauded. Jim Siegel -- the standout Columbus Dispatch reporter -- called it a "bipartisan standing ovation" in his live blog of the event:

I'm not begrudging the Governor for taking on dropouts by trying to engage communities in education. That makes perfect sense and is in line with the evidence. But here is something everyone in Ohio should remember: The EBM provided not $10 million for community engagement, but $508 million for community engagement -- enough for one family and community liaison for every 75 children living in poverty in a district. In fact, that's how these folks were funded.

Here's the exact funding line from the state's finance report from FY11:

Resources for Additional Student Services:                                                                                  
   Family and Community Liaisons        508,286,437.45           292,744,169.45

During the EBM debate in 2009, I distinctly remember my friends on the other side of the aisle pooh-poohing this family and community liaison provision as being unnecessary (or worse). They didn't buy the strong evidence showing that better connections between schools, families and communities has a profound impact on student success. But that idea is kind of a given in education policy land.

Now, many of those same people are giving a standing ovation for a program that commits more than 50 times less. By way of scale, Kasich's commitment equates to just over $5 a child statewide. EBM's worked out to about $250 per child.

Even though the EBM was being phased in due to the horrible economy (the only reason it never was phased in is because the EBM was eliminated in 2011) , the state still provided $292.7 million for family and community liaisons in the 2010-2011 school year, which districts were not mandated to provide yet because the element hadn't been fully funded. That's still nearly 30 times more than Kasich's modest attempt to address this profound problem in our state's schools.

Sorry to drift into EBM land for a bit, but I thought a history check was necessary for everyone as we move forward with this proposal in the coming weeks and months.