Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Governor’s Plan for Education

In his 2008 State of the State Address, Governor Strickland told us how he thinks our public schools are doing, and what needs to change.

He says the State of Ohio increased state funding for primary and secondary education by $600 million dollars (over what period?), and increased the state's share of funding from 48% to 54%. The state funded the construction of 250 new schools.

Is it showing results? The Governor says Education Week ranked Ohio's public schools as 7th best in the county, and that The National Assessment of Educational Progress placed Ohio in the Top 10 of all four of its measurement categories. That sounds pretty good.

Still, the Governor wants to reorganize the the Ohio Department of Education, and I think it's a pretty significant change that he proposes. Here are the exact words from his address:

Today I am calling for the creation of a new position: the director of the Department of Education. This office would be appointed by the governor, subject to approval by the Senate. The director would have oversight over all Department of Education efforts.The existing structure, including the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent of Schools, would remain in place in advisory and additional roles as determined by the director. The most important duty of the state should not be overseen by an unwieldy department with splintered accountability. This change in organizational structure will ensure, like higher education, that there is a direct line of responsibility and accountability in K through 12 education. It will ensure that our elected and appointed leaders are working together to strengthen education in Ohio.

I think this is a big deal, somehow, but I'm not sure. I've never really thought about how the State Board of Education connects into the organization chart for the State of Ohio, but apparently it's a lot more independent than the Governor wants. I've scanned the Constitution, and the Ohio Revised Code, and the Administrative rules, and haven't found who, if anyone, the State Board of Education reports to. So I think it's no one. I think it's a free-floating organization that can create policy and make things happen without necessarily being on board with the Governor's agenda.

If I've analyzed this correctly, then I would have to agree with the Governor. I bet that a very very small fraction of Ohioans can even name who their representative is on the State Board of Education. Ours is Michael H. Cochran, but I admit having to look it up. So when people are uphappy about the schools, and want to hold someone at the State level accountable, it's going to be the Governor. So we might as well have the function report to him, just like all the other Executive functions of the state government.

The State Superintendent, Susan Tave Zelman (another name I bet few of us know), who reports to the State Board of Education, worded her response carefully. After all, she might end up working for the Governor:

My top priority has always been doing what is best for Ohio’s students. As the Ohio General Assembly considers the Governor’s proposal regarding the governance of our education system, I am confident they will do what is best for Ohio’s students.

The Governors plan throws a wrench in the school funding amendment proposed by Getting it Right for Ohio's Future, which seems to want to make the State Board of Education a super-legislature which has dibs on the State treasury. GIRFOF is heavily backed by the Ohio Education Association and the local teachers' unions. So it seems like the Governor wants to take on the teachers' unions.

I think I like this guy.

One nit though Governor. My family was among those first pioneers you spoke about who came down the Ohio River on flatboats to settle Ohio in the 1790s, but I doubt that they ever saw the the "mouth of the Ohio River" - because it is not in Pittsburgh...

... it's in Cairo Illinois.


  1. The Dispatch had an article about the Strickland speech in which it said he was following precisely in the steps of former Gov. James Rhodes: bond issue to pay for education was his strategy in the '70s. And my question is: did it work? Taxes increased and the brain drain continues. Just having colleges, by itself, doesn't seem to matter other than causing a large drain on the state treasury. Sort of like the way the U.S. indirectly pays for all Europe's defense needs with our military.

  2. What is so wrong with teacher unions?

  3. Reponding to the first comment: The $1.7 bond issue won't have anything to do with the schools. It's more about building and repairing physical infrastructure (road, bridges, etc) and funding the developement of specific industries. The objective is the creation of jobs.

    And to the second comment: I have no particular beef with the concept of a teachers' union. I grew up in WV, where the unions won for the coal miners safer working conditions and a decent wage. But in the 1970s, the unions drove labor costs to the point that the employers who could leave the area did, taking the jobs with them. I'm not sure who won.

    I expect that the membership of the HEA has voted down the last offer from the School Board - one which I understand substantially mirrors the terms accepted by the non-teachers (OAPSE). The teachers are risking a fracture of the relationship between them and the people of the community, who won't understand why the teachers are balking at paying a piece of their health insurance costs when many people are worried about having a job this time next year. Teachers are working toward a pension - most of the rest of us are hoping our savings hold out when we retire, if we can retire. Teaching may not be the highest paying profession, but it's a darn good one.

    The teachers are risking being perceived as a selfish, spoiled mob by many. Seems like they would want to be on their best behavior prior to a levy vote - which generates the funding to pay for the raises.

  4. I was shocked one time when a teacher confided that she thought teachers were, definitionally, better people than business people because they (teachers) were involved in a higher calling and weren't in it for the money. It would be nice if they displayed that unselfishness by not striking right before this levy vote.

  5. After thinking about it a little bit, State Superintendent Susan Zelman has decided she doesn't like the Governor's idea after all.

    It will be interesting to hear what the Ohio Education Association (the statewide teachers' union) has to say about all this. One would think the Governor is beholden to the OEA for their support in the election. What has he promised them?

  6. Back in the October 2007, the Columbus Dispatch said it was in support of the idea of the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent reporting to the Governor. The Dispatch reiterated their position in February 2008, and I agree with their thinking on this.

    State Superintendent Susan Zelman is very much opposed. She reports her staff is working on a comprehensive set of recommendations for improving Ohio's stuff, and that those recommendations will be published in the fall. They are in no way a reaction to the Governor's actions, she states.