School reform and the growing disconnect between DC and the states

The Fordham Institute is unique in the school reform sector in that we have offices in both Washington, DC and Ohio. From the Buckeye State vantage point, we see a growing disconnect between reformers inside the Beltway and those toiling in the states. The federal government is flush with money (granted it is borrowed!) and there is big talk about reform; while the states are broke and in the middle of brutal budget cutting that is threatening to set back school reform efforts big time.

Exhibit A: Washington, DC - U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a gathering at the National Charter School Conference last week in Washington that now is the time to turn around the country's 5,000 lowest performing schools, and he said the federal government has $5 billion to spend on this effort over the next two years. Sec. Duncan and the President are actively encouraging more charter schools, dramatic school turnaround efforts, common academic standards across the states, and other reforms backed up by federal "Race to the Top Dollars."

Exhibit B: Columbus, OH - the General Assembly and the Governor are struggling to cut $3.2 billion from the state's $54 billion budget. At serious risk are all manner of recent school reform - charter schools (especially cybercharters), STEM schools and associated STEM programs, Early College Academies, the state's innovative value-added assessment system, and any real talk of improving the state's standards and accountability systems. Education reform in Ohio has been consumed by the state's fiscal crisis. Reforms and reformers are now pitted against the status quo and long-established educational interests in a life-and-death struggle for scarce dollars. The reformers are apt to lose big time in the Buckeye State.

The story from Ohio is playing out elsewhere across the country as state's struggle with massive holes in their operating budgets. Today's Wall-Street Journal reported that "personal income-tax collections, which account for about 36 percent of state revenues, dropped 26 percent in this year's January-April period.... Sales-tax revenues have swooned, leaving 48 states with a combined revenue shortfall of $166 billion in the coming fiscal year."

We are seeing a serious shake-out of school reform efforts in the states. What plays out in state capitals over the next few weeks may very well set the direction for school reform in the United States for the next decade or more. This is despite the valiant efforts of the federal government to try and keep education reform moving in the right direction.

Photo credit: jeremybrooks

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