Ohio long has guaranteed that all students will be proficient in reading early in their schooling. Yet years later, too many students do not reach the mark, and their lives are diminished as a result, more often on public assistance, or in prison. On Wednesday, state Rep. Gerald Stebelton, the chairman of the House Education Committee, captured the exasperation of many Ohioans: “We are failing our children.”
The Lancaster Republican spoke as part of rallying support for yet another reading guarantee, pushed by John Kasich, the governor declaring this time will be different. Let’s hope so. The legislation, approved by both houses and set for the governor’s signature, calls for all third graders to read at a proficient level. And if they fall short? They will receive “intensive, explicit and systematic instruction.” The intervention will arrive at the earliest indications of trouble, the evaluations beginning in kindergarten.
Those students who reach third grade and still are not proficient? They will be held back as they receive additional help.
This is the kind of commitment required. The legislation even takes aim at education colleges, seeking ways to ensure new educators are equipped with the best practices for teaching reading. The question that hovers is whether the governor and lawmakers will back their big talk with sufficient resources to deliver on the guarantee.
If not for the practicality of the state Senate, there wouldn’t be the starting sum of $13 million for reaching the goal, the money approved in separate legislation. The Senate also prevailed, thankfully, in taking a measured approach to the problem, knowing that a rush job would bring a mess, schools overwhelmed by students who failed to meet the reading standard.
That instinct of the Senate, expressed by Republicans and Democrats, pointed to the mammoth size of the challenge. As it is, Armond Budish, the House minority leader, rightly describes the guarantee as an unfunded mandate. Many lawmakers play down the role of money. Yet a successful effort requires a mobilization, teachers and others devoted to the worthy and necessary cause, dedicated to better ways of education yet equipped with the funds to make a difference.
Tellingly, Ohio has not yet committed to a requirement for all-day kindergarten.
Chairman Stebelton and others speak reassuringly about addressing the matter of resources when they remake the school funding formula in the coming months. What school districts know is the current reality. They are coping with $1.8 billion in spending reductions, slashing program offerings, teaching positions and other items to make ends meet. Many districts are seeking local tax increases at the ballot.
The governor shouldn’t attempt to fool himself or the rest of Ohio. He wants all third graders to be proficient readers? Great. Will he prove honest about the resources, ensuring that this time the guarantee has a decent chance of success?