Four years ago, Ted Strickland was entering his final year as Ohio’s governor, and things were rough.  The nation was in the midst of a horrible recession and the economy was struggling in many ways that were having an adverse effect on Ohio’s education system.

On top of that, Strickland had implemented legislative changes that had received mixed reviews by the education community and, by all accounts, had turned many teachers against him.

Looking back, we can recognize the complexity of many of the issues of the time.  As you likely remember, jobs were being lost nationwide and Ohio was no exception.  In addition, property values were falling and foreclosures were rising.  In Ohio, where property taxes play a major role in the funding of schools at the local level, school districts were realizing a decreased amount of funding and the state was in no position to make up the difference.

Strickland had also passed a variety of controversial education-related measures, most memorably the change that eliminated some of the state’s calamity (or snow) days that districts could miss, requiring districts to begin finding ways to make up those lost days of instruction.  This was part of Strickland’s plan/desire to increase the number of days that Ohio’s children attended school annually.  Strickland had even stated that he would have liked to increase the school year from 180 to 200 days as his key initiative at trying to improve student achievement, but the reduction of calamity days was the only solution that the state could currently afford.  He expected the economy to begin to rebound and, when it did, he planned on increasing state funding to schools to help pay for the additional instructional time.

Strickland also wanted to increase funding to schools to be able to require schools to reduce the student-teacher ratio at the primary grades, believing that smaller class sizes at the early grades would help Ohio’s youngest children to learn in a smaller classroom setting.  Again, this proposal was scoffed at by districts who were struggling with funding and the state’s budget was not in the position to increase state funding to districts.

With the budgets at the state and in local districts strained, teachers were also feeling the pinch.  Many teacher’s associations and school districts were negotiating contracts that contained givebacks and 0% raises while healthcare premiums were increasing and spouses were taking financial hits (if they were able to maintain their jobs).

Strickland’s optimism about the economy turning around and his plans to eventually increase state funding to education fell flat.  He actually had plans to increase state funding from 51% to 61% of local districts’ revenue in an effort to reduce the burden on local property taxes through a funding model that his administration believed would finally bring Ohio’s education funding model into compliance with the state Constitution.

But ultimately, Strickland’s proposed education reforms without established funding sources simply put teachers and school districts on edge as they merely saw them as more unfunded mandates from the state.  Strickland even had the gall to propose exploring the use of student progress as a means of evaluating the performance of schools and teachers, a suggesting that was opposed by the Ohio Education Association.  This last piece ultimately resulted in the Educator Standards Board, a body composed of a majority of teachers, being directed to begin to develop model teacher and principal evaluation systems and make recommendations concerning the use of student progress in the evaluation systems.  I really want to emphasize that last piece — Governor Strickland charged a state board comprised of a majority of practicing teachers to develop a model evaluation system for educators while offering recommendations about how student progress should be included.

In the end, even while many teachers (like most every other worker in America at the time) were frustrated with flat-funded contracts and districts were being forced to make tough cuts due to decreased local funding, it seems that the loss of the snow days was the final straw and many teachers turned against Strickland.   Kind of sad, really, considering that Strickland was simply looking for a way to increase students’ time with their teachers to improve student achievement in a way that did not increase current expenses to the district.

Fast forward to the present day, January 2013, as we enter John Kasich’s final year as Ohio Governor and it is time to ask, “How are things going in Ohio’s schools?”

As you might remember, Kasich didn’t get off on the best start with Ohio’s teachers:

From there, the Kasich administration tried and failed to dismantle all unions in the state, though he ultimately failed in spectacular fashion.  Though we could write a lot about Senate Bill 5/Issue 2 and 2011, let’s focus strictly on other education-related items.

Also in 2011, Governor Kasich, instead of expressing his support of Ohio’s educators, proudly signed legislation that made it very easy for Teach for America “teachers” to get licensed in Ohio.  That was a very proud day for Kasich:

“Today is a landmark day for Ohio education.  The cavalry is coming. They’re going to ride on white horses with white hats in to our schools,” said Kasich.

A landmark day — how did that feel, teachers?

Kasich also put out his first budget bill in 2011 and it further reflected his commitment to the state’s education system.

Kasich Budget 1

While Strickland had been making plans to increase state education funding by $2.5 – $3 Billion per year, Kasich’s first budget cut funds to education by over $1.3 Billion in year one and additional $500 Million in year two.  In the first two years of Kasich’s administration, the education budget would realize a total cut of over $3.1 Billion.  While the national economy had yet to rebound and districts were still struggling with local property tax collections, Kasich slashed $3.1 Billion dollars in state funding from the education budget.

In other education-related accomplishments, Kasich has successfully expanded the EdChoice voucher program from 14,000 up to 60,000 in a concerted effort to get children out of Ohio’s public schools and into private schools despite evidence from the Ohio Department of Education that the public schools are doing a better job with those children.

The Kasich administration is also able to brag about the adoption of a new method of grading schools on an A-F grading scale.  The new model sets different rules for different types of schools and requires a great deal more administrative work on the part of the Ohio Department of Education to construct (i.e., education resources going to non-school operations).  In the end, the new method told the same old story — charter schools are still the state’s worst performers.

Speaking of charter schools, Kasich spoke proudly at the graduation ceremony of his good friend William Lager’s charter school, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT).  Maybe you’ve heard of it?  Charter School funding is at a record level this year, continuing to drain funds out of local schools across the state, regardless of the performance level of the local school.

Kasich also gets to tout the new teacher evaluation system that he pushed through in his budget.  While Strickland put this process in the hands of a group of practicing teachers for recommendations, Kasich simply hired an inexperienced teacher and close friend to conduct closed-door, invitation-only hearings that didn’t adhere to Ohio’s Sunshine Laws.  In the end, the new teacher evaluation system was simply rammed through in a budget bill and has already sparked multiple pieces of legislation to try and make it even remotely feasible.

Kasich’s other education reform initiatives include:

Here we are in January 2013, and Ohio’s teachers and schools are working to implement one change after the next to keep up the ever-changing and random whims of the Kasich administration.

As we look back four years, we see that Ted Strickland was holding off on implementing some of his biggest changes until he could find additional funding for schools.  John Kasich, however, has not held such reservations and pushed through each new law without finding new ways to provide additional state funding.  To date the education budget is still well under the level that it was under Strickland and school funding is now down over $4.1 Billion dollars in the three years since Kasich took over the state’s finances, and that amount will grow to nearly $5 Billion by the time Kasich exits office at the end of this year.  That money represents cuts to schools that we will never get back.

And while Kasich was cutting state-level school funding, he was simultaneously urging voters to oppose local school levies that district’s needed to make up for Kasich’s cuts.  More recent laws, especially the elimination of the property tax rollback this past summer, are putting an ever greater strain on local economies.

But by all accounts, the national economy is showing signs of recovery, and here in Ohio, John Kasich is touting a turnaround that he is calling the “Ohio Miracle”.  While there is much evidence that disputes Kasich’s claims that he has turned Ohio’s economy around, let’s pretend he’s correct for a moment.  If Ohio’s economy has turned around, then why hasn’t education funding been restored to the level it was under the Strickland administration when the economy was, without argument, struggling mightily?  In fact, why hasn’t education funding increased to a level above the Strickland administration amount as Ted Strickland intended to make happen over this same period?

It’s quite telling, isn’t it?

Kasich has imposed a myriad of new requirements from state government on public schools while decreasing state funding.  His new laws have decreased the amount of local control over the educational process while increasing local school districts’ reliance on local funding through property taxes, causing Ohio’s school funding model to veer back into the realm of unconstitutionality after he threw out the Strickland school funding model that would have done the exact opposite (and received national recognition for doing so).  Other Kasich education reforms have served to take additional funding away from local public schools and divert it to either private schools or to the private companies running Ohio’s billion dollar charter school business.

Meanwhile, Kasich stands by his assertion that Ohio’s economy has recovered from the recession, but Ohio’s schools aren’t feeling it.  Instead, Kasich’s policies are still pushing school districts to the brink as schools continue to make drastic cuts to personnel, programs, courses, schedules, extracurricular activities, busing, etc.  Teachers and other district employees continue to absorb more costs — increased contributions to retirement (by law), increased healthcare premiums — while continuing to settle for extending contracts that offer no raises for the foreseeable future.

Oh, and John Kasich did restore all of the snow days for Ohio’s schools.

That leads us to the upcoming election this November and the need to ask ourselves, “Are Ohio’s schools better off under Kasich?”

And as I have spent time looking back over the difference between now and four years ago, and as I look ahead to where the Kasich administration might lead us over another four year term, I get chills.  I simply can’t imagine a worse scenario than giving John Kasich four more years of systematically dismantling public education in my home state.

I’d like to think that every teacher in the state of Ohio would readily give up their snow days to erase the past three years.  I know I would.

Remember In November.