John Kasich won the Ohio governor’s race last Tuesday. He will take office in under two months with much goodwill and support in the General Assembly, where significant GOP majorities will rule both chambers. But he will also face a vast budget shortfall—estimated at $6 to $8 billion—for the next biennium. The resolution of this deficit is sure to affect everything the state supports and does, including K-12 education, which now consumes 40 percent of state dollars.

Yet education is no simple “government service” or “consumable.” It’s a critical investment in our children’s future and that of the entire state. It is central to creating great jobs, transforming the economy from physical labor to brain work, boosting competitiveness, strengthening the polity, and sustaining the culture—all of which Ohio mightily needs. That’s why education reform has been front-and-center in the Buckeye State for two decades.

Despite all the worthy effort by past governors and legislatures, however, Ohio’s young people are not nearly as well educated as they need to be and the academic payoff from its whopping investment in public education has been disappointing, to put it mildly. Costs are sky-high. Results-based accountability is weak. Bureaucratic regulation is rampant. Quality choices are few. Adult interests have over-ridden those of children, families, and taxpayers. Some foolish policies have been enacted along with sound ones. And now, of course, the state’s fiscal health is perilous, as is that of many schools and school systems.

Yet as new leaders take the reins in the Buckeye State, opportunity is at hand—the opportunity to build upon yesterday’s better policy decisions, rectify poor ones, and make lemonade out of sour circumstance. Ohio’s education system could be transformed into an effective, efficient engine of individual opportunity, academic achievement, and economic growth, even as the money flowing into it diminishes.

This can only happen, however, if the state’s new policy team is prepared to defy special interests, to alter entrenched but dysfunctional practices, to end low-payoff activities and invest in those that matter, to make sweeping changes in both education funding and HR, and to stick to its guns in the face of what will surely be intense opposition.

The bad news is that pulling this off will be incredibly hard. The good news is that persevering with it might secure Ohio’s future.

To move the Buckeye State forward in education, while spending less, Fordham recommends seven policy priorities:

  1. Strengthen results-based accountability for schools and those who work in them.
  2. Replace the so-called “Evidence-Based Model” of school funding with a rational allocation of available resources in ways that empower families, schools, and districts to get the most bang for these bucks.
  3. Invest in high-yield programs and activities while pursuing smart savings.
  4. Improve teacher quality, reform teacher compensation, and reduce barriers to entering the profession.
  5. Expand access to quality schools of choice of every kind.
  6. Turn around or close persistently low-performing schools.
  7. Develop modern, versatile instructional-delivery systems that both improve and go beyond traditional schools.

See our full recommendations to the state’s incoming leaders here.

This piece originally appeared (in a slightly different form) on Fordham’s blog, Flypaper, and in full in this week’s Ohio Education Gadfly.

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