Social media blew up this weekend over proposed changes to Ohio’s Operating Standards by the State Board of Education.  The major issue is a change that seems to eliminate a requirement for districts to have specialists to teach the arts and physical education.

As always, we’re interested in providing more information to our readers about stories, so we want to provide you with the full story and let you decide what’s really happening.

First, the State School Board is performing a normal review of the education-related sections of the Ohio Administrative Code.  Legislation is enacted by the Ohio General Assembly, published in the Laws of Ohio, and codified in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC). State agencies promulgate rules and regulations (sometimes called administrative law) in the Register of Ohio, which are in turn codified in the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC).  The review taking place by the State School Board is not out of the ordinary as it is scheduled to occur every five years.  If you look at the current sections of OAC, you’ll actually find many references to sections of ORC that are outdated or have even been repealed entirely.  Therefore, this review and update is necessary to keep the rules in alignment with new legislation.

The current crisis has to do with the review of OAC 3301-35-05, specifically section (A)(4) which currently reads:

(4) A minimum of five full-time equivalent educational service personnel shall be employed district-widefor each one thousand students in the regular student population as defined in section 3317.023 of the Revised Code. Educational service personnel shall be assigned to at least five of the eight following areas: counselor, library media specialist, school nurse, visiting teacher, social worker and elementary art, music and physical education. Educational service personnel assigned to elementary art, music and physical education shall hold the special teaching certificate or multi-age license in the subject to which they are assigned. School districts receiving the school nurse wellness coordinator factor and school district health professional factor funds pursuant to section 3306.06 of the Revised Code shall give preference to hiring licensed school nurses.

[Note: section 3306.06 of the ORC, referenced in the last sentence, has been repealed.]

The State Board’s Operating Standards Committee has recommended numerous changes to sections of the OAC and you can find all of them in Volume 5 of the Board’s meeting materials on pages 78-171.  We’ve provided some of the key excerpts surrounding this discussion below.

The first key excerpt is where the Board has recommended changing the definition of “Educational Service personnel” as follows:

 

ESP

Where the definition used to include only individuals who would be licensed, the new definition expands to include a variety of different jobs, many of which would not require state licensure.  As you read through the list, however, it also becomes clear that any school district, to operate effectively in Ohio, would need to have someone fulfilling all of these jobs, whether the job was singular or a part of one person’s responsibilities.  In large districts, these jobs might each be performed by one or more individuals, but in smaller districts, one individual might have these roles as a part of their job (e.g., exceptional children program director and ECP pre-school director might be the same person in a smaller district.

The next section is a larger excerpt and, if taken out of context, might lead a person to believe that the Board is cutting out core teachers, too.  You need to read the entire section to understand what is being removed and what it is being replaced with:

Pages from Board Book Vol 5 Nov 2014-2_Page_1

Notice how the first section strikes out all of the requirements for language arts, math, science, history, health, and even physical education and the arts.  That is subsequently replaced, however, with the wording “In addition to those subjects required by the Revised Code”.

That takes us to section 3313.60 of the ORC which requires, among other things, the very language that the State Board proposes striking from OAC for redundancy purposes, including the requirement that a district include physical education and the fine arts in the curriculum “for all schools under its control”.  While some may think this is a dangerous precedent to refer curricular decisions back to the legislature, the reality exists that the legislators in Ohio’s General Assembly already have that authority.  Remember, the School Board doesn’t make the laws, the legislators do.

Finally, the section that has caused widespread concern:

Pages from Board Book Vol 5 Nov 2014-3

The entire section, known as the “5 of 8” rule, is proposed to be eliminated.  This has raised concern that school districts will no longer be required to hire art, physical education, and music teachers at the elementary level.  The reality is that districts could have already opted to hire individuals in the other five categories and had their elementary classroom teachers provide instruction in these three areas.  The elimination of this section doesn’t necessarily cause these teachers to be cast aside.

Taken as a whole, the basic premise of these changes, along with other changes found throughout the proposed revisions, appears to be guided by the notion that the School Board wants to give local school districts greater independence to hire the “necessary” specialists as they see fit.  The State School Board is leaning toward the notion of “local control” in this period of revisions.

The merits of that could be debated ad nauseam, but I’ll propose that on its face, the elimination of that section of code isn’t the real issue we’re facing, but is more a symptom.

The issue is funding.  The issue is that schools are being forced to choose between specialists instead of being able to provide a comprehensive set of programs and services to all children.  Since John Kasich took office and the Republicans have held a majority in the General Assembly for the past four years, funding for public education has suffered dramatically.  Not only was state funding directly cut, but changes to the way that property taxes are calculated (rollback, etc.) have caused a decrease in local funds, too.  Add in the funds being diverted to charter schools and via vouchers at an ever-increasing rate, and it’s no wonder local school boards are looking to cut.

This has meant that school districts across the state are being cornered into having to decide what is more important — a music teacher or a nurse?  An arts program or social workers?  Services for second language speakers or physical education?

These are not decisions that local school districts should have to be making!

And now, because of the new online testing being forced upon school districts in both urban and rural areas alike, districts are being forced to spend millions of dollars on computer hardware and technology infrastructure instead of being able to hire additional teachers and “educational service personnel” that provide valuable services to students across the spectrum.

As the father of two boys — one identified as gifted in all core areas who has type-1 diabetes and plays in the marching band (and concert band) and loves the arts, and the other who struggled with dyslexia and needed additional support throughout his high school years (also artistic) — how would I ask my district to choose between a nurse, a gifted coordinator, a music teacher, an art teacher, or a counselor?  Every single one of those individuals have played an irreplaceable role in the education of my two boys.  Just two!

Sure, cutting this language seems like it could lead to more trouble down the road, but the truth is that local school districts are already in trouble.  As the Kasich Administration continues to pass more time-intensive legislation without additional funding resources, school districts are already having to make drastic cuts to people and programs that are absolutely vital to Ohio’s children.

So as you call and email the members of the State School Board tonight, tomorrow, and for the next month (changes are set to be considered until that time), don’t stop there.  The School Board’s actions are a symptom of the problem that exists at the legislative level where Kasich & Co. simply don’t care about funding public schools adequately.  As long as his kids in a private school are doing okay….

Never stop contacting your legislators about fixing Ohio’s underwhelming school funding “model”.

 

You can read more about this story at the following websites:

 

 

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