The Ohio legislature may advance a bill that would “deregulate” public schools at the same time as an education budget proposal would ensure half of the state’s schools receive less funding. On Monday afternoon, the Ohio House Education Committee will vote on sending the bill to the House floor, Cleveland.com reported.
The bill — which has been pushed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Senate President Keith Faber (R) since early last year — would get rid of a few diagnostic tests for earlier grades and the state reading test for third-grade students, do away with student learning objectives that are used in teacher evaluations for all subjects besides reading and math for early grade levels and high school, and allow all schools to reduce standardized testing to 2 percent of the school year and spend less time on practice tests.
School districts would also be able to give contracts up to $50,000 without competitive bidding compared to $25,000 now. School districts that are considered “high performing” would be able to do away with class size requirements and gets rid of some requirements for teacher credentials.
Meanwhile, under Kasich’s proposed education budget, more than half of the state’s public schools would receive less money. The governor’s office said it is adjusting the state funding formula to better represent district incomes but legislators still argue the funding distribution is unfair.
Deregulating schools has been an interest of the governor’s since 2014, when he touted deregulation without getting into many specifics. At the time, sources who spoke to the Columbus Dispatch said Kasich was floating ideas such as lowering barriers for licensing requirements for teachers and creating a formal bridge between the business community and state board of education in order for business leaders to “have a more direct influence on curriculum.”
Not all of these proposals are obviously conservative and focused on business interests — for example, reducing time spent on standardized tests to 2 percent of the school year has been supported by the Obama administration — but they do reflect Kasich’s general interest in making traditional public schools more similar to charter schools. Kasich lifted a state cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in the state, ended the moratorium on virtual schools, and signed legislation that allowed virtual schools to operate with little accountability, all during his first year in office, Mother Jones reported.
Considering the charter school scandal that broke last year, in which then-Ohio charter school chief David Hansen was exposed for messing with the ratings of charter school sponsor evaluations, causing him to resign, many state education advocates are worried about deregulation of schools. Others argue these were isolated incidents and likely don’t reflect the overall charter school system. However, the state’s Department of Education recently had to revise the number of poor-performing charter schools for federal regulators because it incorrectly stated in its grant application that only six charter schools performed poorly when the actual number of poor-performing charter schools was 57.
Advocates for traditional public schools are also worried that deregulation is simply an excuse not to give schools more funding in order to achieve their goals. If Kasich frames the issue as giving teachers freedom and flexibility by requiring less of them, the hope is that teachers won’t notice the funding to achieve higher standards isn’t there.
“I have often commented that Ohio is asking our public school teachers to do more with less and cracks will inevitably show,” Dr. Renee Middleton, dean of the College of Education at Ohio University, wrote in WOUB Digital after Kasich mentioned the idea of deregulation of schools in 2014. “The Third Grade Reading Guarantee, a bill supported by Governor Kasich, was named by himself as one of the licensing requirements that public school teachers might need a break from. His office should instead speak to the public school teachers, listen to what they need, and give them the resources necessary for success in schools, in students, and in communities.”
In an interview with myDaytonDailyNews.com, Ohio Federation of Teachers president Melissa Cropper agreed that although deregulation may be wise in some cases, it can also function as an excuse not to fund public schools adequately. “A lot of the deregulation recommendations were based on schools’ need to make decisions because of financial issues,” Cropper told the news site. “I think that skirts the real issue, which is that we’re not funding our schools correctly.”
There is also a question of whether or not a state that has the country’s ninth-largest reading gap between the highest and lowest performing schools, according to a White House report released last year, should be allowing schools to give up reading tests. It isn’t only reading where Ohio students fare poorly. The state also has the fourth largest achievement gap in graduation rates and second-largest achievement gap in math.