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Ohio teachers lobby lawmakers over proposed education changes
They say plans are confusing and they're being whipsawed

Jo Ingles
In The Region:

Teachers throughout Ohio are starting to get a clearer look at Gov. Kasich’s proposed education plan. And they have concerns about it. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, educators are taking their concerns to Ohio lawmakers as the lawmakers start to dig into the two-year budget.

INGLES: Teachers are lobbying lawmakers

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It’s a typical day at the Ohio Statehouse.  Lawmakers are here.  And so are teachers concerned about Gov. Kasich’s newly proposed education budget.  On this day, these teachers turn into lobbyists.

Rod Miller is a middle school teacher in Ontario, near Mansfield.  He and two other teachers sit in the office of Republican State Sen. John Eklund, explaining their concerns about changes that will affect teachers, including a third- grade reading guarantee that will keep third graders from moving onto fourth grade unless they demostrate they can read.

Miller says he has no problem with the idea that children should have attained a certain level of literacy by the third grade.  But he says the rules and implementation for the guarantee are downright confusing.

“There is so much change coming around (teacher) evaluations, … and we don’t even know how it’s happening.  It seems like in one meeting, they will say one thing and in another meeting, they will say something else.  So we are not sure.

“We work hand-in-hand with our school board and our administration,” he says, to try to sort it out. 

And then there’s the money
Miller says it’s not only the proposed curriculum changes that trouble him. He says he’s also worried the proposed state funding levels for schools will not help districts like his.e

“Back a few years ago, we went back to our public for a levy. It had been 13 years since we did that. We had spent 20 percent less than the state average, we were rated excellent and still it took us six attempts to pass that levy.  That’s troubling.”

Darold Johnson with the Ohio Federation of Teachers says Miller’s concerns are echoed by teachers statewide.

“What we are hearing is that they’d like to see a lit bit of slowing down of the changes,” he says.  “They are concerned we won’t be able to implement the third-grade reading guarantee because we won’t have enough third-grade teachers.  They are concerned that we want to have a value-added score to help teachers improve … and not punish them. And we are concerned about the funding levels.

“We want to make sure we get rid of the over-reliance on property tax and that we adequately fund schools.”

Lawmakers say they’re listening
Many lawmakers are willing to sit down with teachers to talk about these issues.  Republican State Sen. Eklund says he wants to hear what they have to say. 

“They are legitimate concerns.  What’s most important about them is they are coming from the people who have to deal with the issues on a day-in, day-out basis. And that’s the way we get information, … when the people who are closest to the issues have the patience and good sense and fortitude to bring them  to the Legislature and express them.”

Eklund isn’t ruling out changes to Ohio’s education plans based on what teachers are telling him now. And that may include changes to Gov. Kasich’s proposed school-funding plan.

“My initial look at it is that there are many components to it that make good sense. I think it’s a good -faith attempt to try to take into account funding issues that perhaps have not been given as much emphasis as they could have in the past. So I think it’s a creative idea in that respect.”

Getting more input
Still, he says, “I’m in the process of talking to superintendents and school treasurers to get their reaction and see how they think it’s likely to impact them.”

And he says “God knows” what the final education budget will look like when it comes out of the House and Senate.

Hearings on the two-year budget and plans for schools are in the early stages right now.  

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