Here’s what Governor-Elect DeWine means for Ohio education

State of Ohio

Earlier this week, Republican candidate and current Attorney General Mike DeWine won the Ohio gubernatorial election by 4.2 percentage points over Democratic challenger Richard Cordray. DeWine will succeed two-term Republican governor John Kasich, whose leadership left an indelible imprint on Ohio’s education policies.

Although DeWine’s education policies won’t take shape until after the start of the new year when his administration unveils its first operating budget, there are plenty of clues about which issues will be priorities. Based on his campaign’s policy platform and various news sources, here’s a look at what can be expected from a DeWine administration.

Accountability and testing

The governor-elect is stepping into his position amidst some intense education debates. A dispute over high school graduation requirements has raged for over a year, with no end in sight. There’s been a consistent push to dump A-F letter grades on state report cards. And there is a lot of heated discussion, and ongoing litigation, about academic distress commissions—the state’s approach to intervening in persistently low-performing districts. And, yes, there continue to be concerns about “overtesting.”

Despite all this controversy, or perhaps because of it, DeWine was careful to leave himself plenty of wiggle room during the campaign. His education agenda did promise to “reduce the number of tests that students are required to take,” but he also told the media that part of his plan is “to not make too many changes, in order to bring some stability to Ohio’s school system.”

DeWine’s acknowledgement that Ohio’s education system is long overdue for some stability is likely welcome news for many teachers and administrators. But even if he changed his mind, his administration would be limited in how many and which tests it could cut. In Ohio, students take annual exams in grades 3–8 in math and English language arts (ELA), and science tests in grades five and eight. All these assessments are required by federal law. In high school, students take seven end-of-course (EOC) exams: two in ELA, two in math, two in social studies, and one in science. Federal law only requires one exam each in math, ELA, and science. That puts four of the EOC exams on the potential chopping block, but it’d be a shame to lose them since they were implemented in an effort to raise previously low expectations. There are also additional tests—like the statewide administration of the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment and SAT/ACT or the WorkKeys exam—that could be cut, though the information and benefits that these tests offer students, parents, and educators would make cutting them a potentially unwise move as well.

As for school report cards, DeWine has said very little other than calling for a report card that “parents can understand.” Of course, given the plaudits that Ohio’s report card has received, one could argue that’s already the case. He has told the media that he is interested in finding a way to support failing districts prior to the state receivership via academic distress commissions. And although he has not made his position on graduation requirements explicitly clear, his campaign spokesman has said that DeWine believes “we should set the goal that every high school graduate should either be college or career ready. They should be able to immediately pass college entrance exams or they should have a skill they leave school with.” That sounds far more like tweaks to Ohio’s existing graduation pathways than diplomas for good attendance and a part-time job.

School choice

School choice is a hot topic, too. Ohio has a rich and complex choice environment that includes public charter schools, vouchers, and open-enrollment. Although Governor-Elect DeWine did not include a formal position on school choice in his education platform, he has previously declared his support for choice, and his campaign spokesman confirmed that he believes parents should be able to choose their child’s school. Opponents went after DeWine for taking campaign contributions from the founder of ECOT, the now defunct online school, but as state attorney general, he also filed a lawsuit against ECOT to recover public funds. In his education platform, DeWine also called for the establishment of a pay-for-performance model for online schools. Given his previous support for school choice and his recent calls for more oversight, it’s reasonable to assume that DeWine will follow in Kasich’s footsteps by supporting high quality choice options.    

School funding

DeWine’s education agenda promises that his administration will “create a more equitable funding system that directs state resources toward supportive services for children most in need.” Although there are no specific details, “supportive services” sounds a lot like wraparound services. His platform also claims that “funding is not about systems, it’s about students.” That statement is also pretty vague, though there’s a possibility that it indicates openness to a system where money follows the child and results in greater equity.

Early childhood education 

DeWine’s campaign website has an entire page devoted to early childhood development. He plans to raise the eligibility level for publicly funded early childhood programs for working families from 130 percent of the federal poverty level to 140 percent, a change that could easily be included in his upcoming budget proposal. His policy platform also pledges to “ensure all early childhood education centers are high quality,” which could indicate that he plans to provide additional resources and incentives for centers to achieve a high quality rating.

Career and technical education

Proposals for how to expand and improve career and technical education (CTE)—which DeWine refers to as “vocational education” on his campaign website—make up a large chunk of his K–12 platform. Here are his most significant proposals:

  • Create a Student Work Experience Tax Incentive for businesses that provide students with work opportunities.
  • Extend the work of the Ohio Department of Education and the Office of Workforce Transformation to educate kids about careers so that everyone understands their choices.
  • Cut red tape that limits the use of Ohio Facilitates Construction Commission funding for CTE schools.
  • Establish regional job-training partnerships throughout Ohio with local businesses, education providers, and community leaders.
  • Coordinate efforts and improve services and funding streams for the seventy-five job training programs that currently operate across twelve state agencies.
  • Remove barriers that limit which career and technical courses a student can count toward a high school diploma. 

As you can see, these proposals are wide-ranging and encompass more than just the K–12 sector. They also offer DeWine his biggest chance to leave a lasting educational legacy. CTE enjoys broad bipartisan support and, when done well, promotes cross-sector partnerships between businesses, secondary and postsecondary schools, and community organizations. By expanding and improving CTE offerings, the governor-elect could work with a diverse coalition of folks from across the aisle and a vast variety of sectors.

The federal government recently passed a new law governing CTE funding and implementation, but states won’t be required to submit their implementation plans until sometime next year. That gives the new governor a perfect opportunity to push for his ideas without causing too much disruption. He could also take advantage of the increased funding the law provides and save Ohio taxpayers some money. And since Ohio already has a thriving and robust CTE sector with plenty of reform and innovation already underway, he won’t have to start from scratch to do any of it.

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According to his education agenda, the goal of the DeWine administration is “educational excellence in every school, for every student.” Although smart and well-intentioned people will disagree on how to make that vision a reality, many of the ideas DeWine has proposed throughout his campaign are promising. Congratulations to the governor-elect, and best of luck with your new job!

 
 
Jessica Poiner
Jessica Poiner is an education policy analyst in the Fordham Institute’s Columbus office. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked and taught in Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District.