Welcome to Kasichistan, where even members of the General Assembly can’t get information about the budget they’re being asked to vote on from the government.
Frustrated by the inability or unwillingness by the Kasich Administration’s hearing witnesses to provide basic answers regarding the Administration’s school funding formula and education budget, two Democratic members of the General Assembly tried another route: ask for the information by making a public records request. Traditionally, when a Member of the General Assembly makes such a request, even if the information sought was not within the strict confines of public records, the information would be provided in order to foster good Executive-Legislative functions and, well, the legislative branch is entitled to know.
So it’s not be unusual to see requests from elected legislators get more substantive responses than your John Q. Public. Kasich has “leveled” the playing field by, apparently, decided that NOBODY is entitled to receive documents unless they can figure out secret formulation of the request to get the documents you seek.
Now many of the documents they seek aren’t state secrets. There’s no “privilege” that the Administration is asserting. Instead, they’re engaged in some rather questionable lawyering to suggest that the request is “too broad” and thus, alleviating them of any responsibility to produce any documents at all.
You might recall that Seth Morgan sued the Strickland Administration when they didn’t immediately turn over a request that essentially asked for every scratch of paper that Strickland accumulated regarding the formation of his evidence-based school funding model. Morgan sued in the Ohio Supreme Court which heard the case exactly two years ago today. Morgan “won” in that the Court granted him the writ he wanted, but the Court basically found that the Administration was in the process of producing the documents already, and just ordered them to continue to produce them as they were.
Left with little alternative, it looks like the House Democrats are being forced to consider suing the Administration in order to get the information:
“After delaying the release of budget language for several weeks, the Administration continues to withhold essential information from the public,” said [Assistant Minority Whip] Debbie Phillips. “We are requesting this information on behalf of our school districts because they have a right to know how this temporary school funding formula was created and what the bottom-line reductions will be as a result of the Governor’s budget proposal.”
As members of the Finance Primary and Secondary Education subcommittee, Phillips and Lundy requested a variety of data, including one complete spreadsheet showing how various policy changes and funding reductions will impact each school district. Additional information on the variables included in the newly created “bridge formula” were also requested. These items and the numerous other requests for information were deferred or denied by the Kasich Administration (Kasich Letter, 4/18/11).
“Superintendents, teachers, students and parents have a right to know exactly how much their school district will be cut under Gov. Kasich’s proposed budget,” said Rep. Lundy. “Instead of being honest with school districts, this administration has decided to misdirect and mislead schools about the total impacts of the proposed cuts.”
In addition to concerns over lack of transparency, Reps. Lundy and Phillips also questioned how the administration can make such sweeping policy changes without necessary metrics. No records were provided, for example, that show cost savings as a result of potential changes to teacher salaries or provisions ending the “last in, first out” policy.
“Gov. Kasich’s education experts claimed in committee testimony that there could be big savings by ending the ‘first in, last out’ policy and effectively terminating older teachers,” said Rep. Phillips. “Our request simply asked for the Administration to show us the data to support that claim and we were denied.”
The Governor’s office did indicate that they might have records responsive to one of the 17 items. The Representatives asked for emails between The Fordham Foundation and Robert Sommers, Director of the Governor’s Office of 21st Century Education, or others on the Governor’s staff and the attorney responded that it is the Representatives duty to craft their request more narrowly. Rep. Phillips noted, however, that such requests are not unusual and the denial of this request is at best disingenuous and potentially in violation of the law.
“Gov. Kasich has shown an extraordinary lack of respect for transparency and the denial of request for information is just another example of this,” said Lundy. “I hope we can work to get the data and information that schools and superintendents need without pursing a legal remedy, but we will if we have to.”
John Kasich really has a problem with his whole transparency thing. Can you now imagine trying to get reliable information from JobsOhio?
[UPDATE:] Wow. Check out the Governor’s response as reported in the Dispatch right now:
Kasich, during a bill signing this morning, said he was unaware of the Democrats’ records request but said he would "love to show them the numbers."
"Well I think they just need to kind of walk across the street and ask (Budget Director) Tim Keen to see the numbers," Kasich said. "He’ll show them to them. We released it online. I mean, do they know computers? Do they have computers? Maybe they don’t. I don’t know."
Following the bill signing, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor was referring to documents the administration released regarding school savings through Senate Bill 5 and pension reform.
Among the items Kasich’s lawyer said the administration didn’t have: research that shows Kasich’s new school-funding formula will improve student achievement; a copy of the formula itself; a list of charter schools in academic emergency or watch; and projections of cost-savings from eliminating the "last-in, first-out" rules for educators.
The Administration claims it cannot produce a copy of its school funding formula because it doesn’t have one, nor does it have any research that suggests its school funding formula will improve student achievement.
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