Educators Voice Concern for Their Students
In September of 2010, Ohio’s GOP gubernatorial candidate said that if he was elected, the evidence-based model of school funding would be “gone.” Consequently, in June the state legislature passed a two-year budget that dismantled former Governor Strickland’s evidence-based school funding model.
In furtherance of that agenda, Barbara Mattei-Smith, Assistant Policy Director for Education, announced that a series of meetings would be held in July to discuss a new school funding formula for Ohio.
I was able to attend the final meeting (rescheduled after a prior “scheduling snafu”), held in the large room at the State Library of Ohio. The meeting was standing room only as education professionals from rural, urban and suburban Ohio school districts packed the room. Those who didn’t get there early enough to get a chair stood or sat on the floor for the entirety of the 90 minute discussion, which began promptly at 9:30 a.m.
Mattei-Smith began by explaining the new funding formula’s four principles. After finishing her explanation of the new funding model’s principles, she asked participants to voice their concerns.
The gathered education professionals spoke on behalf of their students.
“The problem with the funding system that we need to tackle,” said a rural teacher in reference to the current school levy system, “is ‘will I be able to take care of kids’ needs based on the outcome of a vote?’”
Mattei-Smith asked participants about the role of local levies in Ohio’s education funding system.
“Ohio’s Constitution says it’s the state’s responsibility to fund education,” responded a suburban teacher. “First and foremost, we need to look at whether the state is providing a thorough education for all students regardless of a community’s property value.”
After more discussion regarding the need to reduce the state’s over-reliance on local property tax revenue to fund education,
Mattei-Smith asked attendees what they needed in their classroom to be an effective teacher.
Some brought up the need for Pre-K education funding. Mattei-Smith said that “we may not resolve it in this K-12 funding system, [but Pre-K funding] is on our radar system.”
Participants shared their stories of doing more with less as a result of recent budget cuts in their respective districts. Some spoke of students who couldn’t focus on learning because they were worried about whether they would still have extracurricular activities. Others mentioned specific items they needed in their classroom, like tissues, notebooks and other basic school supplies that their students’ families couldn’t afford. And some looked outside of their classroom.
Said one special-needs teacher. “[My students] need a school nurse — they have very specific health needs. They need a school counselor. They need mental health services. Some days I think I should give them a medal for coming through the door. It’s not just what you need in the classroom.”
Many who spoke agreed on the need for support from the government, both financially and in general, to invest in our students.
“Everyone is here because they believe in an education for our children,” said one urban teacher. “We take money out of our own pocket to provide for our students. We are more than books and we are more than just standing up there and throwing data at the children.”
One education professional focused on a disturbing trend in education funding plans, describing it “as a choice between educating the whole child or more of a business model. We’re not here for the dollars, yet the people that are making the decisions and the funding formula are looking at it from a business model.”
In a similar vein, another educator spoke about the complexities of school funding and the need for more public input. Mattei-Smith, who has been a licensed but non-practicing school treasurer in the state of Ohio since 2009, seemed to agree, saying, “[The discussion] needs to be ongoing and continuous and we need to better figure out how do that.”
Yet when asked about her next steps in the design process, Mattei-Smith was more obtuse, saying she would put the information she gathered into “some kind of cohesive thought pattern and from there we’ll work on a funding model.” She said she planned to come back out in the fall, presumably give advanced notice of meetings, and include “employee organizations” like the Ohio Education Association.
The governor’s intended timeline to legislate a new funding model for education in Ohio is unbelievably short. Though state officials have until July 1, 2013 to legislate a new funding system, the governor of Ohio has stated that he wants to unveil it before the end of 2011 and have it ready to implement by July 1, 2012—less than one year from now.
To paraphrase Bette Davis, buckle your seatbelts folks, it’s going to be a bumpy year.
By Phil Hayes, Columbus Education Association