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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Kasich Education Vetoes a Mixed Bag for Kids

While Gov. John Kasich's line-item veto of the Ohio Legislature's freeze on Medicaid has rightly eaten up much of the veto discussion, Kasich also vetoed 11 different education provisions in House Bill 49 -- the state's beinnial budget. For a complete rundown, look here. But I would like to focus on a couple things.

CHARTER SCHOOLS

In several of the vetoes regarding charter schools, Kasich said he struck the provision because it was unfair, or treated schools differently, or lowered standards. My issue with this reasoning is, well, that's kind of been the story of Ohio's charter school system. Ohio charters have been treated differently, held to lower standards and been unfairly funded at the expense of children in local public schools since 1998.

So why the sudden call to conscience? I don't know. But let me take a few of the vetoes in turn.

1) He vetoed a provision that would have allowed charters to count student growth as 60 percent of its student achievement measure rather than the current 20 percent. He claimed this was because it would hold charters to a lower standard than local schools. But that's only true if you believe that student growth is not as effective a measure as straight performance. And while there are real concerns with how student growth is calculated and used, putting more emphasis on that measure could encourage schools to spend more time with more students rather than just focusing on high fliers whose high scores would help a school's rating more than growing the lower scoring students. That's not a horrible public policy outcome. And we have always held charters to different standards than local schools -- that's been part of the point with charter law and criticism of it.

2) He vetoed a provision that would have allowed sponsors that were stripped of their ability to sponsor schools this school year to sponsor them again this year if they scored 3 out of 4 or higher on academics. His reason? Because they would still score poorly on the other bureaucratic measures under which they are now evaluated. But this is exactly the problem the legislature was trying to address -- you have some of the highest rated sponsors for academics (arguably the most important of the three charter school sponsor measures) unable to continue sponsoring schools because they don't meet the bureaucratic measures. Instead, with his veto Kasich essentially is putting a greater emphasis on whether a sponsor fills out forms correctly than whether the schools they oversee serve kids well. I fail to see how that outcome upholds quality for kids.

SCHOOL DISTRICT FUNDING

Several of Kasich's vetoes would directly harm the funding for kids in local school districts.

1) He vetoed a provision that would have helped ease the removal of Tangible Personal Property (TPP) tax reimbursement payments to districts, forcing many districts to deal with much steeper cliffs. He claimed schools have had enough time to cope with this loss. Kasich has never really understood why removing this formerly $1 billion a year payment for kids in local schools was so detrimental. I think it stems from a fundamental misunderstanding (or deliberate misunderstanding) of the 2005 law that eliminated the TPP. In exchange for the elimination of the TPP (which went mostly to kids in school districts), the state agreed to make school districts whole with Commercial Activity Tax payments until a real replacement could be developed. It's that last part of the agreement whose promise Kasich broke in 2011 when he decided to eliminate the reimbursement payments, cutting funding to kids in local school districts by $1.8 billion in that budget. The last year before Kasich, the TPP payment was $920 million. Now it's all but gone. Which is why when lawmakers claim they've increased funding to schools, they NEVER include this lost revenue. Anyway, Kasich's draconian adherence to this false narrative about TPP continues to be one of his greatest failings. And kids will suffer for it.

2) Kasich vetoed a couple provisions that would have allowed school districts to apply for state matching funds for new buildings at lower local share matches if they phased them in over time. He claimed this would have created inequities among districts. Which is a nice sentiment, but the whole reason the legislature did this is because of the current system's inequities. Some districts are caught in a nether zone where they are considered too "wealthy" for a big state match, but also too poor to fund the whole thing -- hence the current inequity. However, if they could go for a smaller bond issue, kids in those districts might be able to access the same new buildings as many other districts in the state. Again, this punishes districts who are neither wealthy nor poor, but are less wealthy than the wealthiest.

HOSING APPALACHIA. AGAIN.


Throughout Kasich's turn in the Governor's office he has found new and creative ways to hurt rural Appalachian schools. When he developed what was supposed to be his signature "Achievement Everywhere" school funding plan (a plan that was dumped unceremoniously by his own party), the plan disproportionately hurt rural Appalachian districts. He used school funding formulations that would downplay the poverty in Appalachia. And now he vetoed a provision that would allow school districts to give state tests in paper rather than computer formats. Rural Appalachian districts simply don't have enough computers to give tests over computers effectively or efficiently. We also know that kids who take paper tests tend to do better than those who take them on computers. So Kasich is forcing kids in mostly rural Appalachian districts to take more time taking tests and in a format that's biased against them. All in the name of what? "Standards"?

Part of his decision I think stems from Kasich's sharing of the school reform bias toward assessments that show kids doing worse. I've discussed this before, but just because kids to worse on a test doesn't mean that test is more accurately assessing their proficiency in a subject. Does anyone honestly believe that a test showing that only 1/3 of students are proficient readers is a more accurate read of how kids are doing than one that suggests 85 percent are?

Kasich made some decent vetoes on education provisions. His veto of a provision that would have forced College Credit Plus students (kids who take college courses in high school) to receive a C or higher to receive college credit when college students can receive credit for a D makes sense.

His veto of a provision that would have exempted some special education private schools from state assessments was generally fair.

His veto of a provision allowing Education Service Centers to sponsor schools from all over the state was also a small victory.

But overall, Kasich's vetoes were cloaked in a veneer of fairness that hides
the unfair and inequitable approach his administration has used in education policy since 2011.

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