Why I support the education provisions in the hotly debated SB5

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

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
, the Columbus
, Cleveland
Plain Dealer
and the Canton
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.