Earlier this year I testified in both the Ohio Senate and the House in support of the education provisions embedded in the highly contentious Senate Bill 5. SB5, now known as Issue 2, is up for referendum next Tuesday and current polls show the bill will very likely be overturned. If that happens, it would be a shame because there are reforms in SB5 that education in Ohio needs to not only become more efficient and sustainable, but to become better for children.
As I shared in my legislative testimony, ???Nothing matters more to student learning than teacher quality. The fact is that highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced levels in a single year. The significant of this finding can't be understated.??? I went on to argue, ???Ohioans, for the most part, understand that strong teachers and good schools are a critical investment in our children's and our state's future. Consider that in 2010, the state invested more than $18.3 billion in K-12 public education ??? roughly $2,078 for every adult living in the Buckeye State. In fact, school funding in Ohio has steadily increased over the past three decades. Just since 1991, when the first DeRolph lawsuit was filed, per-pupil revenue for Ohio's public schools has risen 60 percent (even accounting for inflation.)???
This growth in spending saw the number of K-12 public employees statewide grow 35 percent (from about 181,000 to 245,250), while K-12 enrollment in the state actually declined about 1.5 percent. The math didn't add up when I testified and it still doesn't. In fact, it is not a stretch to say that education spending in Ohio, and indeed across the country, has peaked and we need to figure out how to educate children to a higher standard with less money.
To do this, school districts need more flexibility over personnel and especially personnel costs as they make-up about roughly 85 percent of school spending. Senate Bill 5 would provide districts with needed flexibility that includes:
- Creating a salary structure free of automatic step increases;
- Requiring performance-based pay for teachers and nonteaching school employees;
- Limiting public employer contributions toward health care benefit costs to 85 percent.
- Banning seniority as the sole or primary determinant of who gets laid off when lay-offs are unavoidable;
- Requiring annual evaluation of teachers to include student performance date; and
- Requiring that any lay-offs be based in part on these evaluations.
The bottom line, as the editorial pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Canton Repository have noted, Ohio can't continue doing business as usual. Does SB5 need some improvements and fixes? Absolutely, and this is what the legislative process is for, but throwing it out completely and returning to the status quo will mean tougher times for school districts, more teacher cuts, and a diminishment of quality in a time when we need to do more with less.
Now is not the time to backtrack on reform. Hopefully Ohio's voters will see it the same way, but if they don't lawmakers should seek to move forward anyway. The state's future is at stake here and doing more of the same is not an option.