For more than 20 years two concepts have dominated the school-funding debate in Ohio: adequacy and equity. Equity points to a distribution issue, the task of evening wide disparities among districts in the money directed to education. Adequacy concerns whether the funding is sufficient to ensure any student, anywhere in Ohio, has access to a competitive standard of education.
Perhaps the ultimate test for policymakers is to achieve a balance of equity and adequacy that meets the constitutional mandate for a thorough and efficient system of public schools. So far, that system of funding has proved elusive.
John Kasich, the fourth governor to face the test, was confident he had the solution. But explanations by his policy team during a House Finance Committee hearing this week confirmed that adequacy is not a feature of the Kasich funding plan. Barbara Mattei-Smith, the assistant policy director for the Governor’s Office of 21st Century Education, told the panel: “We are not attempting to define, or even propose that we can know, as a state, the correct spending amount that ensures every student in every district will receive just the right amount of teaching and learning for success upon leaving our elementary and secondary schools.”
That is a disappointing admission of failure, a failure to keep in view all that is required to build a world-class system of public schools, which the governor frequently and properly champions.
The adequacy issue is precisely the problem that earlier governors and legislatures aimed to address by identifying and costing out the essential components of the sort of teaching and learning that makes for success upon leaving school. To their shame, they did not fully fund the components, but they understood the factors essential in a funding plan that genuinely seeks achievement everywhere. If the Kasich team will not propose or even attempt to define what would provide the right amount of teaching, then the suggestion is, “adequate” is any amount that may be available.
The advisers said the focus of the Kasich plan was equity, “the need for an equal opportunity to resources,” with extra help where special challenges exist. School officials are disillusioned for good reason. Since the funding details were released last week, educators in many of the poorest districts have noted the governor’s plan reneges on his claim of fairer distribution, more for the poor schools and less for the rich.
At the hearing, state Rep. Ryan Smith, who represents several Appalachian school districts, posed an apt question: Was there “a secret sauce” in the budget that would enable cash-strapped districts to offer not German, not ceramics, not violin lessons, but just a basic education? That’s the question the governor’s plan leaves hanging.