Funding crisis scales back Ohio infrastructure improvements, is education next?

Ohio’s newspapers ran headlines today warning, “Money
crunch pushes Downtown roadwork way back
,” “Local
highway projects face delays
,” and “Last
phase of I-75/I-475 project stalls
.” The financial problems facing Ohio is
scaling back big time infrastructure projects that have been in planning for
years. According to the Columbus Dispatch
the Ohio Department of Transportation “proposes pushing back 34 projects that
had been planned to start by 2017 to dates as far off as 2036.”

Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation,
captured the problem when he told the Cincinnati

Unfortunately, this
is Ohio’s new reality. For too long, previous administrations have added more
and more to the list of projects knowing that there were more projects than
funds available. Their poor planning has put us in the position of making the
tough decisions and delivering the bad news to many communities throughout the
state that there is simply not enough money to fund their projects.

In reading about the woes facing Ohio’s highway improvement efforts
I couldn’t help but wonder if education in Ohio doesn’t face problems of
similar scale. Despite recent cuts at both the state and local levels in the
Buckeye State, have we made more promises than we can possibly meet? Ohio is in
the midst of totally revamping its academic standards as part of the Common
Core and this means new assessments, new curricula, new pacing guides and lots
of professional development. Added to this, Ohio is putting in place new
teacher evaluation systems, seeking ways to turn around its most troubled
schools, and hoping to expand school choice programs of various sorts. Fordham
supports all these reforms because we believe they will result in improvements
in student performance.

But, all this change is suppose to happen in school systems
that are strapped with collective bargaining agreements that are burdened with
fixed costs that steadily increase year-to-year to deliver the same services.
Consider the practice in collective bargaining agreements of step and lane
annual raises of two or three percent for teachers and other staffers for just surviving
another year on the job. There is no evidence that these increasing labor costs
improve productivity or student achievement. In fact, as the state’s teaching
force ages it may actually result in reduced productivity. Economists call this
Baumol’s Disease: too often, labor-intensive organizations increase expenses
without improving productivity

The fact is that Ohio, like the rest of the country, has
seen inflation adjusted spending on education increase two to three percent a
year for most of the last century. But, like in highway construction, we face a
“new reality.” The new reality is schools and school districts are being asked
to do more with less. Have we overpromised in education like we have in
infrastructure development? Will we soon be seeing calls for extending needed
reforms like the Common Core from 2014 to 2020 or 2024?  

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