Governor Kasich received approval from the General Assembly to pack up the family truckster and head to Wells Academy in Steubenville to deliver Ohio’s State of the State address.  And make no mistake, Wells Academy and Steubenville are more than deserving of receiving accolades for their student achievement scores, but Kasich is certainly an unlikely messenger given his push to overhaul public education, especially his disdain for public school teachers.  

Wells Academy and the Steubenville City Schools, however, were just too much of a political pawn for Kasich to ignore as he still seeks to enact major changes in school funding, including his outstanding claim that teacher merit pay is a key to education reform.  We wrote about the insincerity of Republicans’ support of merit pay for teachers back in May while the budget debate waged on and nothing has changed to convince us that Kasich is authentically interested in implementing any form of merit pay system.  But now, Kasich’s visit to the top-ranked Wells Academy erases any doubt.

The Steubenville City School PROVES that Kasich’s talk of merit pay for teachers is bogus.

Wells Academy might be described as Ohio Republicans’ PERFECT school (minus that whole “public” label, of course).  When the recently enacted school reform measures included in the budget are considered, Wells Academy and the Steubenville City School district might be considered to be “doing more with less.”  The school’s highest-in-the-state performance index score for 2010-2011 is the most obvious reason to receive praise from Kasich, but praise doesn’t pay the bills, does it?  And even more, Wells Academy isn’t some flash-in-the-pan.  When we ranked schools retroactively we discovered that Wells Academy was also #1 in 2009-10 and #12 in 2008-09.  In fact, since the performance index score calculation were changed 7 years ago, Wells Academy has the 15th highest average in the state (out of the 3056 schools reporting scores every year).  That puts Wells in the top 0.5% in Ohio in student achievement.  Pretty hard to top that performance.

While we typically see Ohio’s wealthy districts with such high scores, Steubenville and Wells are far from wealthy.  The average income (federal AGI) in the Steubenville City School district ranks near the bottom – 533 out of 614 – according to the Ohio Department of Taxation (2009; most recent year available).  So this isn’t exactly a district that is hemorrhaging dollars.  The average teacher salary in Steubenville is 12% below the state average while Wells Academy’s is a full 22% less – an amazing number.  Obviously, the lower income of the region certainly plays into the lower salary figures but still, this is just what Kasich seeks — school districts doing more with less.

In addition to the numerous awards that Steubenville has received for academic achievement on the state test scores is recognition by Ohio Education Matters as one of the most efficient school districts in Ohio.  The organization honored Steubenville in May 2011 after releasing a report titled Benchmarking Ohio’s School Districts, a report that prominently factored in to the crafting of Kasich’s budget and was specifically cited by former education advisor Bob Sommers during the mid-March budget “town hall.”

“We are 47th in terms of spending in the classroom, and we are 9th in spending on administration.  A recent report by KnowledgeWorks indicates that we could save $1.4 billion annually in non-instructional costs if schools merely followed the practices of our best schools that have already implemented these things. Ohio’s educational system can do better.”

While not everyone agrees with the findings of the report, clearly their inclusion on the list is another feather in Steubenville’s cap as far as Ohio’s administration is concerned.  This acknowledgement is obviously not a recent development either, as the report points out that “these kinds of savings won’t materialize overnight.”

So far we’ve seen that Wells Academy is high(est) performing over numerous years and is run efficiently and below state average in a low-income area.  What does their funding look like?

In a word: Average.

Ohio school funding numbers aren’t broken down by school, so this information must be considered at the district level.  Funding is broken down into three categories: federal, state, and local.  Steubenville doesn’t directly decide on the federal or state funding amounts, so the local funding amounts that are voted on by residents is a more telling figure for considering the district’s “efficiency” and use of local tax dollars.  Here are the various per pupil revenue figures.

Ohio Average











Notice that Steubenville’s federal funding is above average for Ohio’s school districts.  Generally speaking, this is indicative of the economics of a district’s residents and aligns with the income figures we looked at earlier.  The state funding figure is virtually identical to the average funding provided to Ohio schools.  But the local funding amount (the amount provided through local property taxes) is significantly lower than average and mirrors the ranking of their average income at 498th in the state.

And yet despite the overwhelming financial hardships, the students in this small district of five schools in eastern Ohio churn out high scores on Ohio’s standardized tests.  Steubenville can boast about producing the results that Ohio law demands, including the top-ranked school in the state two years running.  And if the top scores in the state weren’t enough, Steubenville can open the books and document that such high student achievement was attained in a most efficient, perhaps even penny-pinching manner.

The teachers at Wells Academy, and likely all of the Steubenville City Schools have demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that they are worthy of more than Kasich’s recognition.  These schools exemplify the criteria for being high-performing and these educators certainly meet John Kasich’s definition of earning merit.

We pay good teachers more, but I’m going to suggest that we hold all teachers accountable. … the good ones — we’ll pay them more.
–  John Kasich

But despite these facts; despite highest-in-Ohio student test scores over multiple years; despite an average amount in state funding; despite being recognized as a high-efficiency district; despite low residential income; and despite the fact that all of this information was clearly available and actually referenced by the administration in crafting the budget…

Despite ALL of these things, Kasich didn’t pay them more.  The Republicans in Ohio’s General Assembly didn’t pay them more.

In Kasich’s two-year budget, Steubenville didn’t even get to keep the funding they already had.

No, in spite of their big talk about merit pay for educators — performance pay for those who exceed — the Excellent-rated Steubenville took a pay cut of 2.8% over the next two years.

Readers, what other proof do we need that Kasich’s spiel about rewarding teachers is nothing more than a political talking point?  Actions speak louder than words, and on February 7, words are all Steubenville will receive from Governor John Kasich.

Lots and lots of words.