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New Republican plans for education worry Democrats
Implementation of initiatives passed in 2012 is likely to occupy a lot of 2013

Ida Lieszkovszky
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This year saw many changes in education in Ohio. Students got new tests and requirements. Teachers got new evaluation systems. And, charter schools and universities saw new oversights as well. But as StateImpact Ohio’s Ida Lieszkovszky reports, the new year will bring plenty of other changes to the way the state’s schools are run.

Changes in Ohio education

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Ohio runs on a two-year budget, but that doesn’t mean off years are slow. Gov. Kasich crammed in several education initiatives into his mid-cycle budget. Several other education bills passed the legislature. Among the new programs is the third grade-reading guarantee.

Ohio third graders must be proficient readers, or they could be held back.

There are new evaluations for teachers. New report cards for schools. Voucher programs expanded. There’s a new voucher program for special needs students. And the state is watching charter schools more closely.

 “I honestly believe most of its long overdue,” says Michael Sawyers, the acting state schools chief.

He says it’s been a good 10 years since significant education reform.

 “Yes, there’s a lot happening all at once but if we’re going to create chaos we might as well create total chaos and then put the pieces and parts together to create the system that’s necessary to better meet the needs of kids.”

Sawyers says looking ahead to 2013, educators will spend much of the year implementing the programs passed in 2012. Plus Ohio will start using the Common Core exams for students, exams shared with 48 other states to create a common testing system.

But, the biggest thing to look forward to in the New Year will be a promised new formula to fund schools.

New Republican Plans 
Governor John Kasich has been hinting at what his plan might look like.

 “I’ve got a school-funding proposal coming out for early childhood all the way through the 12th grade. We have a huge and significant in higher ed. 50 % of the dollars that go to colleges and universities are only going to them if they graduate students and not enroll them.”

But if schools are hoping for a big influx of cash they might be disappointed.

Republican leader of the House Education committee Gerald Stebelton, says he hasn’t been privy to details of the governor’s new funding formula, but he has a few guesses at what it might include.

 “I would guess that you’ll see more emphasis on performance by the school districts. I would think that knowing the way Governor Kasich thinks you’ll be seeing more emphasis on operational efficiencies and tying funding to districts that try to improve their operational efficiencies. I think there will be some connection to funding following the child.

Worried Democrats
The ranking Democrat on the House Education committee, Nickie Antonio, worries the new funding formula will do little to fundamentally change the way schools are funded: where they rely heavily on local property taxes– a system that leads to better schools in wealthier neighborhoods and struggling schools in poorer, urban and rural settings.

 “Part of coming up with a funding formula is coming up with a fair funding formula,” says Nickie Antonio.

Kasich says his school funding formula will be independent of his spring budget. . But Antonio will be keeping an eye on the budget for anything that might affect schools anyway.

 “We’ll be very watchful, mindful of the fact that the budget is a large, large document with many, many moving parts,” says Antonio.

In particular, Antonio will be on the lookout for anything that target teachers unions. . Union members have been watching Michigan and other states that recently passed right-to-work laws and wondering if Ohio might not be next.

The state’s public universities are also coping with changes to the way they’re funded by the state. Half of their support will be based on how many students they graduate. Jim Petro, the outgoing chancellor of the Board of Regents says students earning degrees is the whole point of universities.

 “You’ve kind of wasted your money if you don’t get a degree, and frankly since we subsidize public universities pretty heavily we’ve wasted our money,” says Petro.

Petro will retire at the end of January. Acting schools’ superintendent Michael Sawyers will at some point be replaced by a full time schools chief. That leaves one more thing to look for in the New Year: new leadership to manage Ohio’s education policy from Kindergarten through college.

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