LWVO Education Advocacy Agenda

Public Education & Democracy Go Hand in Hand...

because the Founding Fathers understood that self-governance requires an educated electorate. They believed that a state funded and operated system of public schools makes it possible to guarantee equal access to education, something a private system could not achieve. For these reasons education is a paramount function of state government. Every state constitution makes a provision for a system of public education. (See Derek Black, School House Burning). Education is so important that public education is the only state function that the Ohio Constitution requires the state legislature to fund. 

A basic principle of the League of Women Voters is that every person deserves access to a high-quality public education. It is as fundamental to citizenship as is the right to vote.  Public education is not a consumer item, but a resource for the common good that serves a civic purpose - effective self-governance. The beneficiaries of public education are not just the students, but the communities that public schools serve.  

 

State government and local boards of education share responsibility for funding and operating the public system, and for providing oversight to ensure that public funds serve public purposes. The structure of the public system recognizes the importance of local oversight and local investment. The state’s role is to ensure that regardless of a local school district’s capacity to fund education, every district has adequate resources to provide a high-quality education and taxpayers residing in Ohio’s 610 diverse school districts have a comparable burden in funding the local contribution to the basic cost.

 

In the last three decades, education policy has become politicized and ideological. It has weakened the public system and its capacity to fulfill its public purposes. Our nation’s long-standing commitment to the common good has been eroded by advocates for individual rights, who believe the government should fund their “choice” between public, private, or charter schools. A well-funded public system must now compete for resources and students with private, religious, and quasi public-schools. Advocates for “competition” in education want smaller government and tax cuts, yet push for public funds to pay for options previously funded by individuals.   

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These developments are a threat to the public system that the LWVO supports. Our K-12 education advocacy is driven by the critical role of public education in a democracy and the equal value of every child. Our work focuses on three substantive priorities where legislative remedies and local leadership are needed to advance education opportunities for all students in Ohio.

These 3 priorities include...

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School Funding

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Test-Based Accountability

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Privatizing Education

 
 

School Funding

While funding public education is the paramount responsibility of the Ohio Legislature, it shares this responsibility with local communities. The value of the tax base varies widely among communities, as does the wealth of the taxpayers residing in each community. And so, the ability of local school districts to raise the amount needed to educate children in their district varies tremendously across the state. The State’s role is to ensure that all children have access to an Ohio public school with sufficient resources to offer a high-quality education regardless of the capacity of their community to fund that education.

The state funding system is most able to provide equal opportunity by utilizing the actual cost of education as the basis for establishing the amount of money every school district should have available for each of its students. In addition the State should accurately identify the capacity of the local community to contribute to the basic cost of education. LWVO has positions that endorse both of these features of a Constitutional funding system.

Adequate school funding has been a long-term concern in Ohio. Starting in 1997 when the Ohio Supreme Court, in the first DeRolph decision, found the Legislature did not sufficiently fund the public system and relied too heavily on local property taxes, thereby fostering inequality. The State has never satisfied the Ohio Supreme Court’s criteria for a Constitutional system by Ohio's standards. The state's attempts to improve both adequacy and equity, always come up short. This is caused by two outstanding problems. The first is Ohio’s failure to account for the actual cost of education when defining the state’s investment, and the second  is the failure to accurately determine what a community can contribute to that cost that produces an equal burden across communities.

The Fair School Funding Plan

Between 2017 and 2020 Rep. Bob Cupp and Rep. John Patterson led a bi-partisan effort to establish a school funding plan that met the requirements for a Constitutional system. They relied on experts to establish the actual cost of education including the unique costs of certain categories of students and transportation. The result was the Fair School Funding Plan, a long-needed roadmap to guide the state’s investment in public education that meets the diverse needs of Ohio’s schools and students.

During the 133rd General Assembly the Plan passed the House with 87 votes but the Senate refused to act. Representative Jamie Callender and Rep. Bride Sweeney reintroduced the plan as House Bill(HB) 1 in the 134th General Assembly where it received multiple public hearings first as a free-standing bill before being incorporated in the state budget, HB110. The LWVO supported the bill and full funding over a six- year phase-in as proposed by the plan’s architects.

The 134th General Assembly made significant progress toward instituting a funding system that meets Ohio’s constitutional standards for fairness when they approved the 2022-23 biennium budget. The budget included three significant features of the Fair School Funding Plan. First, it retained the formula for defining cost based on a full assessment of education costs. It set the base cost at about $7,200 – a 20% increase from the $6,200 level previously defined without considering actual costs. Second, it retained  the mechanism for defining school district capacity. It now considers both property wealth and the income level of taxpayers, and uses current data for those calculations. Finally, it ends deduction funding for vouchers and charter school tuition, freeing local school districts from these costs.  

 

But much remains to be done. The Legislature only approved the formula for two years, and the first phase of funding. They funded 17% of the full cost in year one, and 33% in year two. There is no guarantee that the formula will endure and that it will be fully funded by 2027. The Legislature also postponed any increases in disadvantaged pupil aid until 2023 and failed to fund a cost-study to help establish the appropriate cost for meeting the needs of disadvantaged students.

We must be vigilant to ensure that the formula is retained and that there are substantial increases in funding base cost and categorical aid in the next two biennial budgets. Without these changes the legislation will not meet Ohio’s  standard of adequate and equitable funding.

HB 290, which “expresses the intent of the General Assembly to establish a school funding formula that allows families to choose the option for all computed funding amounts associated with students' education to follow them to the public and nonpublic schools they attend”. was introduced prior to the approval of the state budget. It is an alarming warning of things to come. It establishes the intent to overhaul education funding in Ohio in a way that would end the public system as we know it. All funding would follow the student. This is a profound threat to education and would be highly disruptive to the Constitutional mandate to fund a public system.

The goal of LWVO’s advocacy is to keep public attention on the value public school education, its basis in the Constitution, and the need to make the Fair School Funding Plan permanent and fully fund it. Where necessary, we will actively oppose serious threats to this system.

LINKS

Jan Resseger: What the New Ohio Budget and School Funding Plan Will Mean for Public Schools - Network For Public Education

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Test-Based Accountability

Test-based accountability uses aggregate scores on standardized tests to assess student learning,  define teacher quality, and  define the quality of education available within a school and a school district. It assumes that educators are solely responsible for student performance measured by a standardized test and that by measuring student performance and attaching consequences to that performance, testing can motivate educators to do a better job, which will in turn enable students to do the same.

Testing became the centerpiece of both state and federal policy in 2001 with adoption of No Child Left Behind, the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It required all states to develop and administer standardized tests to measure basic skills and mandated all students be proficient in said tests by 2014. While federal law requires annual testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school, each state must also: write its own tests, define scores that represent proficiency, assign penalties, and report results to the public. In 2015 Congress renewed the emphasis on test-based accountability when it approved Every Student Succeeds Act. 

Each year the Ohio Department of Education issues a report card for each school and school district that reports test scores and grades the overall quality of education based primarily on test results.

In Ohio, test scores have been used to define if a child advances to 4th grade or graduates from high school, to evaluate teacher performance, to define where EdChoice vouchers are available, and to end local governance by elected boards of education.

While standardized tests are useful for informing instruction and providing a snapshot of an individual student’s progress at a single moment in time, it is inappropriate to use them for the high-stakes decisions and purposes outlined in Ohio law. (See Daniel Koretz, The Testing Charade for a full analysis). Standardized tests are not reliable, accurate or robust enough to make decisions about student achievement, teacher effectiveness, or education quality. Rather, they more accurately reflect the income level of test takers than what a student or group of students has mastered. When high-stakes consequences are tied to test performance, it incentivizes raising test scores more than improving student learning. The focus on measurement and judgment damages the quality of life in the classroom, and undermines the purposes of education. It unfairly puts the full burden on educators and ignores the role of the legislature, structural inequality, individuals, and other factors in shaping measurable outcomes of education.

Because Covid-19 disrupted education, in 2019-20 Ohio applied for and received a federal waiver to suspend testing, and 2020-21 it administered tests but suspended attaching new consequences to test performance. It also suspended the state report card. 

Our advocacy focuses on modifications in testing frequency, reporting, and consequences. 

Recent Developments

State Take Over: As part of HB 110, the biennium budget for 2022-23, the legislature: put a two-year moratorium on using test scores to define new locations where EdChoice vouchers are available, and where Academic Distress Commissions replace local control of a public school district. It also gave East Cleveland, Youngstown, and Lorain a path to ending state control.

Vouchers: In just one day during the lame duck session of the 133rd General Assembly, the legislature passed SB 89 that overhauled the EdChoice voucher program limiting it to school districts with high poverty rates and low test scores. This significantly reduced the number of schools and districts affected, and shifted the burden to the poorest districts. They made an explicit  preference for funding vouchers instead of investing in the education of poor children. The legislation also increased access to the “income-based” EdChoice Expansion program by making these vouchers available to all grade levels and raising the income level for who is eligible. 

HB 110, the state budget bill, also makes significant changes to voucher access. First, because of the interruption to testing caused by COVID -19, the law postpones any changes in identification of what schools are on the EdChoice list until the 2024-25 school year. But it significantly expands access to vouchers in existing school districts by eliminating over the next four years, the requirement that a student has to have attended a failing public school to receive a voucher. By 2025-2026 all students, K-12 can request a voucher only if EdChoice vouchers are awarded in their district.

State Report Card: Legislators have shown interest in revising the state report card. HB 200 would make multiple changes but has not moved through the process.

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Privatization

  1. LWVO opposes vouchers.

  2. LWVO supports a funding system for public elementary and secondary education that is accountable and responsive to the taxpayers. LWVO believes that public funds should be used only for public schools.

  3. Ohio provides for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality school system as the paramount duty of the state. The locally elected school board is constitutionally established to provide oversight and direction to the educational system in each district. The school board should have the authority and the responsibility to require fiscal, management and procedural accountability and enforcement of charter terms and conditions.

 

Ohio operates a dual system of publicly funded schools: traditional public schools and a variety of unregulated private options, including home schooling.

HB 110, the budget bill included significant growth in the use of state funds to support private education, homeschooling, and charter schools. It also approved substantial increases in the value of a K-8 and 9-12 voucher, a Peterson and Autism voucher, and charter school tuition. It created new initiatives to provide tax breaks for private education and homeschooling. It also removed any restrictions on where charter schools could be located. These are substantial changes in policy that diversify and expand the way state resources are used to privatize public education. 

 
 

LWVO Positions

LWVO advocacy is guided by the set of positions approved each year by the members of Leagues across Ohio. Those positions are then reported in the Agenda for Action. 

Here is a summary of positions that guide the education advocacy focus for 2021.

School Funding Positions  

  1. LWVO believes that public funds should be used only for public schools.

  2. LWVO supports a guarantee by the state of a realistic level of per pupil expenditure in all school districts…

  3. State aid should be distributed to compensate for variations among school districts in their ability to raise local revenue to fund education.

  4. The state aid formula should be calculated to reflect the income wealth of school districts.

  5. The state aid formula should be calculated to reflect:

    • ​The actual costs to school districts for state-mandated programs;

    • Meeting the educational needs of the children within the district;

    • Consideration of the economic/geographic characteristics of school districts statewide.

  6. Individual school districts should be required to assume a responsible share of the financial burden and should retain the option of increasing per pupil expenditure beyond this level through local taxes.

Test-Based Accountability Positions

  1. Standardized assessments should not be used for high-stakes determinations such as grade promotion or graduation requirements.

  2. Standardized assessments should not be a basis for evaluating the effectiveness of teachers or administrators.

  3. Funding should not be tied to standardized test performance.

  4. Standardized testing … should be limited in frequency.

Education Privatization Positions

  1. LWVO opposes vouchers.

  2. LWVO supports a funding system for public elementary and secondary education that is accountable and responsive to the taxpayers. LWVO believes that public funds should be used only for public schools.

  3. Ohio provides for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality school system as the paramount duty of the state. The locally elected school board is constitutionally established to provide oversight and direction to the educational system in each district. The school board should have the authority and the responsibility to require fiscal, management and procedural accountability and enforcement of charter terms and conditions. 

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In the News 

Ohio lawmakers finally have a chance to pass a fair school funding plan by Susie Kaeser - 11/13/2020

 At last, a school funding plan that is fair by Susan Kaeser - 03/13/2021

 

Resources

Send a message to your legislators in support of Fair School Funding

Bill Analysis - from the Ohio LSC

 

Fair School Funding Plan 

Impact by School District if passed in full 

LWVO Testimony in Support of Fair School Funding Plan

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