Reforms in Ohio's budget affect more than just charter schools

Ohio is in the midst of some serious and much-needed education reform. Unfortunately, the good stuff is getting lost in the noise of high-profile political controversies around relatively marginal issues like charter schools. Consider that only four percent of the states children attend charter schools; yet the political debate for the last week in Columbus around school reform has been almost exclusively around charters.

We've been drawn into this and haven't been shy about commenting (see here, here and here), but it has been seriously frustrating to be in this debate. In fact, the House charter language was so one-sided and out of kilter that it should never have even made it out of the House. If it had been presented to some of the state's charter school leaders ahead of time ??? like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools ??? it would surely have been refined and improved upon before being put forth in the budget. Water under the bridge now, and hopefully the Senate will fix the mess passed their way.

Yet, despite the charter challenge, the House - building on some good stuff passed to them by the Governor - has gotten a lot right in the budget. First, considering the $8 billion budget deficit facing the state the House-passed the pain across school districts in what can only be described as fair and equitable. Poor districts and their students have not been hit as hard as wealthier districts, and for people who care about fairness and equity this is surely a step in the right direction. In fact, the Ohio budget proposal is less damaging to needy kids and school districts than the one currently being pushed by Democrats in New York (see here).

Further, the legislative changes around teacher-related policies in the House budget are very good and exactly the direction the Buckeye State needs to be moving. As Jamie described earlier this week, the House deserves credit for strengthening teacher evaluation language; instituting similar evaluations for principals (that incorporate student growth and will help teachers perceive their own evaluations as fairer); removing forced placement/hiring of teachers rated ???unsatisfactory??? or ???in need of improvement??? (and instead requiring mutual consent hiring); and tying decisions around tenure and dismissal directly to performance evaluations.

This language is leaps and bounds better than the original version. Fordham has been pushing for years to end LIFO-based layoffs, and while the governor tried to replace LIFO with performance-based metrics the language was still murky and preserved some aspects of teacher seniority. The House installed a provision that teachers must be laid off in order of effectiveness, starting with teachers rated unsatisfactory first, then ???in need of improvement,??? then effective, then highly effective. This is a huge step forward in teacher quality and will ensure that students across Ohio have the best teachers in place, and House members deserve big thanks for this.

In addition to teacher policy reforms, the House budget has thoughtful provisions to test teachers in failing school buildings as opposed to the entire district. This will surely save money while still get at teacher quality. Realizing that the ???parent trigger??? is an untested idea (done only in one school in California), House lawmakers approached this with caution and made it a pilot program in Columbus City Schools instead of a statewide program. Further, the House increased the scholarship amount for the Cleveland voucher program, which has long been underfunded in comparison to other choice programs in Ohio. In an effort to combat the brain drain, the House also created opportunities for Ohio high school graduates (returning to the state within 10 years of graduation) to receive in-state tuition rates.

In short, while the events of the last week have inspired much uproar around charter quality provisions -- and we were drawn into this in a big way ??? it is important to point out that the House budget has some important school reforms in it and they deserve to be highlighted and applauded. They also deserve the support of the Senate.

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