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Education Advocacy Focus – 2021

Public education and democracy go hand in hand. The Founding Fathers understood that an educated electorate was essential to self-governance. They believed that the only way to ensure equal access to education, was for the state to fund and operate a public system that is free and open to all. Every state constitution makes a provision for a public system of education.  It is a paramount function of state government that it shares with local school districts.

LWVO supports the Ohio Constitution and the significance of a high quality, publicly funded, system of public schools because the public system benefits students, communities, and democracy. In recent years education policy has become politicized, with pressure to retreat from its service to the common good in favor of individual rights and a reduced role for government. The state role in education policy has also shifted from ensuring adequate inputs needed for a high quality system, to test-based accountability. Another important change is that public funds are now used for private and religious education, and are not accountable to locally elected boards of education that ensure that public purposes are met. These options have always been allowed but at the individual’s expense.

LWVO’s K-12 education advocacy highlights the critical role of public education in a democracy. We participate in the legislative process, inform and mobilize our members, and inform the public about relevant policies in state government. Where needed, we urge local school district leaders to do the same.  Our work focuses on three substantive priorities where legislative remedies are needed to advance educational opportunity in Ohio:

  1. School funding

  2. Test-based accountability

  3. Privatizing education

School Funding –

Public education funding is the shared responsibility of state government and local communities.  The state role is to make sure that all school districts have adequate resources to fund a high quality education. Ideally, the basic cost of education is defined by the actual cost of providing a carefully defined set of components for quality. The state funding system then accounts for the capacity of each community to pay for the basic cost. The state contributes more to districts with less capacity. This “formula” funding helps to ensure equal opportunity. The current funding system, however, has been broken for a long time, falling short since a judge ruled in a lawsuit filed in 1991 and first decided in 1997, that the state did not invest enough and did not distribute that investment in a way that adequately equalizes opportunities. It relies too heavily on locally raised property taxes. Because both property wealth and income vary from school district to school district, property taxes generate different resources and fuel funding inequality and unfair tax burdens.

The 134th General Assembly has the opportunity to fix the system that has continued to fall short since the first DeRolph decision in 1997 found the system to be unconstitutional. The Fair School Funding Plan, a solid, bipartisan proposal that Rep. John Patterson and Rep. Bob Cupp shepherded through a painstaking design process that started in 2017, was reintroduced for legislative action in February 2021. This is the third try to pass the carefully crafted law. LWVO will advocate for HB 1 during this legislative session. It addresses critical issues that make the system fair, advance equity, and offer significant relief from the cost of private education options.

Click here for a description of HB 1.

Click here to see how it would affect each school district if approved as written.

Test-Based Accountability

Starting in 2001 with federal law known as No Child Left Behind, testing became a centerpiece of federal and state laws designed to provide students a high-quality education. This approach uses scores on standardized tests to assess student learning, to define education quality, and to motivate educators to do a better job. Over time, Ohio has attached a variety of consequences to the results of its standardized tests and issues an annual report card on individual schools and districts based on test results. Ohio uses test scores to define if a child advances to 4th grade or if a high school student graduates, how a teacher is evaluated, where EdChoice vouchers are available, and if an elected board of education retains its authority to govern a school district.

The focus on measurement and judgment is highly problematic because the tests themselves are unreliable and narrow measures of quality. They are known to reflect the income level of test takers more accurately than what a student or group of students has mastered. The high stakes consequences incentivize a focus on raising test scores more than improving teaching and learning. This emphasis damages the quality of life in the classroom and undermines the greater purposes of education.

While standardized tests have a place in informing instruction and providing a snapshot of student progress, they are neither accurate nor robust enough for making significant decisions. Our advocacy will follow legislation that is designed to end the use of standardized tests to award vouchers, to end an elected board of education’s governance responsibilities, to retain students or prohibit graduation, or to evaluate teachers.

We are currently tracking several bills that focus on the state’s testing program and its consequences:

SB 37

HB 40

HB 54

HB 67

HB 100

(Can we create a hotlink to each bill that takes you to the bill summary on the Ohio Leg. Website? )

Privatizing Education

LWVO supports public education, a primary duty of state government, and opposes the proliferation of education options that take people and resources from the public system. The Legislature, despite its Constitutional obligation to provide for a system of common schools, has since 1997 allowed for the steady growth of education entities that are not answerable to publicly elected boards of education. There are now five separate voucher programs, and more than 350 charter schools in Ohio.

LWVO opposes vouchers, and, because charter schools are defined as part of the public system, expects accountability that is commensurate with public schools. Advocacy will focus on changing voucher funding and accountability, and improved charter school oversight.

HB1 which ends deduction funding is the only legislation we are currently tracking.

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. This document can be found here: Microsoft Word - Agenda for Action 2019-2021 Final Updated .docx (filesusr.com)

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:

  1. The actual costs to school districts for state-mandated programs;

  2. Meeting the educational needs of the children within the district;

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

  1. 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.

Why HB 1? And Why Now?
 

Students, school districts, and taxpayers all deserve a workable and fair system. House Bill 1 is comprehensive and a meaningful blueprint for the investment of public funds. It is a serious response to the DeRolph imperative and deserves support. How well it succeeds will depend on the investment the legislature makes during the budget process. Here are the merits of passing this bill now:

 

1. Public school funding is in tatters and school districts are financially vulnerable.

 

2. Sub. HB 305 is ready for adoption. It was developed over three years through a model process of thorough, informed, and transparent policy making led by education practitioners.

 

3. Sub. HB 305 is fair. It is driven by a commitment to an inspired vision of what public schools can accomplish, and it is based on the actual cost of providing for a quality education.

 

4. Sub. HB 305 makes the distribution of state funds more equitable by using a more precise measure of local capacity to pay for public schools.

 

5. Sub. HB 305 ends funding vouchers, charter schools, and inter-district transfers by deducting those dollars from state aid owed to districts. This “deduction funding” drains resources out of local districts, creates greater funding inequality, fuels greater reliance on local funds, and reduces education opportunities for students, particularly in districts with concentrated poverty.

 

6. Failure to act would mean chaos going forward. There is no “plan B” or prospect of a solution that could meet the quality of this proposal.

 

7. It’s about time!


Key Features of the Fair School Funding Plan
 

The Ohio Constitution calls for a state and local partnership to fund a high-quality education in Ohio’s system of common schools. The local capacity to fund schools and the burden on tax payers can vary widely. Similarly, individual children have different needs. State resources are essential to ensuring that all children have access to a high quality of education regardless of their needs or where they live.

The legislation as introduced:

1. Defines how to use state resources to improve access to high-quality education for all students. The plan seeks to provide adequate resources for an education that goes beyond the basics, which can ignite life-long learners, develop thoughtful citizens and protect democracy, and prepare our youth to contribute to the economy and society.

2. Provides a blueprint for spending but does not actually fund the plan. That would take Hi place in the budget process. The architects recommend a six-year period to phase in most of the plan.

3. Establishes a base cost for providing a general education of high quality to a typical student (a student without special needs). The base cost was defined through a thorough assessment of the components and the actual cost of operating a school district and educating children. They include: pupil/teacher ratios supported by national research and state practice, Ohio data regarding salaries and benefits are applied. It also includes resources for professional development for teachers, addressing the health, safety, social, and emotional needs of students, academic and athletic co-curricular activities, technology, and the general operation of school buildings and districts, including building and central office leadership and staff.

4. Uses both the property wealth of a community and the median income of its residents to define the local capacity to fund education. This more accurately and fairly defines the local contribution to the base cost.

5. Ends deduction funding for open enrollment, community schools, and vouchers, removing this expense from local school districts and making it part of the state budget.

6. Increases Categorical Aid for children living in poverty, pre-k education, special education, gifted, and English language learners. It also appropriates $5 million for research to more accurately capture costs for each category.

7. Increases the state contribution to student transportation, makes policy changes to reduce district transportation costs, and accounts for diverse challenges of compact and sprawling school districts.

8. Increases funds for Educational Service Centers.

Contact Us: 

100 East Broad Street, Suite 1310

Columbus, Ohio 43215

Email: lwvoinfo@lwvohio.org

Press/Media inquiries: press@lwvohio.org

Phone Number: (614) 469-1505

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