OEA cares more about process than substance of school funding decisions

Today on the Ohio Education Association's blog is a post criticizing Gov. Kasich and his team (namely assistant education policy director Barb Mattei-Smith) for their process to come up with a new school funding formula.

Earlier this year, lawmakers scrapped former Gov. Strickland's school funding model ? which was inputs-heavy, overly prescriptive, and simply untenable. In Ohio's just-enacted FY 2012-13 budget, lawmakers installed a two-year ?bridge? funding formula, and Gov. Kasich has signaled his intention to craft a thorough school-funding overhaul by the year's end, hinting that dollars should follow students (weighted-student funding!).

The timeline for designing this new funding formula is an ambitious one, indeed. Barb Mattei-Smith, a veteran of state government and an Ohio school finance guru, has been holding meetings around the state to gather input, which is where the OEA finds greatest offense. Among the blog's complaints are:

The fact that she met stakeholder groups individually (gasp!): ?Mattei-Smith held meetings at locations around the state, but kept each stakeholder group separate from one another.?

A missed meeting: ?Unfortunately Mattei-Smith was a no-show for the last scheduled meeting with teacher (sic) because she went to the wrong room.? Heaven forbid the woman should go to the wrong location.

The fact that the governor's team is not posting meeting notes online. ?After all, all of Strickland's forums were aired live on local PBS stations.?

And ? this is the best one ? the fact that Mattei-Smith did not announce the meetings as early in advance, or in as collaborative of a spirit, as the author did for his own student-teacher conferences. ?(Seriously.) ?What I do know is that if my parent-teacher conferences were held with just my students' parents, and I gave them short notice that the conferences were scheduled at a time when they would probably be unable to attend, they wouldn't help my students. Likewise, changing school funding in Ohio requires more than a series of meetings held over a three-week period in the summer.?

To state the obvious, school funding is a complex subject. Third-grade reading or eighth-grade science, or your child's homework completion rate, are not. This comparison is useless.

I get the need for politicians and political appointees to demonstrate they're listening to the people and considering their opinions. But let's stop pretending that the majority of us ? myself included, I'm not a funding expert ? even have a cogent opinion about school funding or necessary background knowledge to be useful in a conversation about it.

The author gives kudos to former Gov. Strickland for holding ?12 forums throughout the state over? three months to get input from Ohio citizens about reforming our education system.?

Those forums were by invitation-only. I went to one. Then in grad school and home on Christmas break, I had to wrangle my way into one of the discussions held in my home town. It was a circus of misinformation. I stopped counting the number of questions raised about why the state was allowing charters to ?steal? public money (and no one ever clarified that charters are public schools). When I asked the governor his thoughts on New Jersey and the notion that constant increases in spending do not, in fact, correlate with better achievement, he had no answer. Audience members (mostly teachers, principals, and superintendents) looked at me like my head was screwed on sideways. The conversation didn't seem very informative or very useful. (Terry shared about his experience at the Dayton school funding talk in an Ohio Gadfly article three years ago.)

But I suppose it was planned in advance, and had wide entrance standards ? which are the metrics against which the OEA is evaluating the quality of school funding decision-making.

The problem is that it didn't result in a sound funding formula for Ohio schools. And quite frankly, if the current governor's team can come up with a better formula ? one that would give districts more flexibility and direct dollars to students to attend the school they wish to ? I couldn't care less who was invited to the discussion party.??

- Jamie Davies O'Leary

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