Ohio's Electorate Has Spoken: So Now What?

The cheers (and some jeers) have faded and the votes from November's elections have finally been tallied (in most places). Yet still uncertain are what the election results mean for Ohio's education program. While Gadfly makes no claims of prescience, several results may bear a weighty impact on education in the Buckeye State.

1. Hello, Governor Strickland

The newly elected governor has promised to put school funding front and center on the policy agenda as a part of his "Turnaround Ohio" plan (see here and here). He has identified this as the single biggest issue facing the state and agrees unequivocally that the current system is unconstitutional. Mr. Strickland's work is cut out for him (see above). And though the 65 percent solution is happily off the table, it remains to be seen whether many of his biggest supporters, teacher unions among them, will be game for substantial reform--beyond simply increased funding.

2. School Board Shuffle

If Governor Strickland wants to make funding changes--or any other changes for that matter--he will have strong allies in the new state board. Two of the four newly elected board members are well-known Democrats, Tom Sawyer and John Bender, and both have signaled their dissatisfaction with the current system (see here).

Charter school supporters should certainly be wary of any new board initiatives. Despite a clear affirmation of the program's constitutionality from the state's high court, Ohio's charters face new threats from hostile board members like incumbent Sam Schloemer. Expect much blustering about oversight and educational management organizations, which are contracted to run many charter schools. Sadly, Mr. Schloemer will likely have allies when Mr. Strickland appoints additional board members in January.

Finally, the state's scientists are no doubt toasting with beakers of champagne. The attacks against teaching of evolution may finally be on the wane as board member Deborah Owens Fink--who challenged the teaching of evolution in high school biology for six years--was ousted by Democrat Tom Sawyer. Three of the four newly elected members are not supporters of intelligent design. Yet dark horse candidate and now new board member Susan Haverkos has signaled her openness to questioning the instruction of Darwinian theory in state science classes (see here). Like many species deemed on the verge of extinction, this tiresome issue will likely continue to evolve (but hopefully not grow legs).

3. When the Levy Breaks

School levies can be a prickly issue for many Ohioans, and this November was no different. In all, 53 percent of the school district levies on the November ballot were approved. Among the big winners was Akron Public Schools, which finally found success at the ballot after two previous attempts and almost a year of wandering in the proverbial desert of fiscal distress (see here). Yet Akron was one of the fortunate few. Just 25 percent of all new tax increases passed muster with Ohio voters. Springfield Local, also in northern Ohio, failed to pass its levy and has resorted to suspending busing for 1,300 children (see here). None of this bodes well for districts like Dayton Public Schools, which is preparing a levy campaign for May to stem layoffs and cuts in programs and services (see here).

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