By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS: If approved this week, Ohio’s first round of education innovation grants will go to foster careers in manufacturing and the drilling industry and early college and specialty programs tailored to Appalachia, Amish Country and the Great Lakes.
A vote scheduled Monday would clear the way for the first $88 million of Republican Gov. John Kasich’s new Straight A Fund to be spent.
About a quarter of Straight A grant requests before the Ohio Controlling Board tie in some way to fostering Ohio’s growing oil and gas drilling industry — an economic driver that Kasich wants to see continue to flourish and create jobs.
Kasich launched the $250 million fund in September, including it in the $62 billion, two-year state operating budget. The grant program was pitched as a way to reward creative ideas that significantly boost student achievement, reduce spending or target an impressive share of resources into the classroom. Its critics have said it gave the governor control over a chunk of money that should have been evenly divided among Ohio’s cash-strapped school districts.
Many finalists for grants strive for goals in line with Kasich’s education philosophy, such as cutting administrative costs, expanding digital learning and blending the transition between high school and college through early college, dual enrollment or campus sharing arrangements, among other plans.
One nearly $13 million grant would establish Marysville Early College High School and Union County Innovation Center in a joint venture including the local school district, chamber of commerce and Honda of America. Early College 2.0 in Dayton would receive $478,000 to establish a low-cost “Smart Summer” program helping students retain what they’ve learned during their summer break, among other features.
The largest grant would send nearly $15 million to an Appalachian collaborative of 27 rural school districts serving 48,000 students.
The Ohio Appalachian Collaborative Personalized Learning Network cites among its goals amplifying the talent pipeline for jobs involving the natural-gas-rich Marcellus and Utica shales. The consortium would also work to eliminate a gap between rural and urban students by making college and advanced high school opportunities more accessible and affordable.
The POWER project (Providing Opportunities with Extraordinary Results) would receive $4 million from the pot, in part to improve opportunities for students in the energy field. The program was created by the Carrollton Exempted Village Schools with Battelle for Kids, Ohio State University and others. Carroll County is at the center of Ohio’s hydraulic fracturing boom.
Two Hamilton County school districts, Cincinnati City and Princeton, would receive $14.5 million, if approved, to improve educational services and resources for the region’s exploding population of English language learners. Future CLASS for Diverse Learners would serve an estimated 14,400 students and families with English classes for parents and additional translation of the districts’ most-used documents, among other things.
Other grants would highlight notable cultural or scientific aspects of the state. One establishes a $205,000 “Cabinets of Wonder” initiative on literacy, arts and the Amish-Mennonite culture in Holmes County. Another sends $525,000 to build outdoor innovation labs on Kelley’s Island in conjunction with the Akron Inventors Hall of Fame, Biomed Science Academy, Columbus City Schools, Ashland University and others.
Finalists were chosen through a multistep process that included application scoring and review by some 30 grant advisers, including professional educators and community and corporate leaders. The nine-member Straight A Governing Board made up of four Kasich appointees, four appointees of Republican legislative leaders and the state superintendent made the final recommendations.
Of the $100 million from the fund available this year, legislators earmarked $11.4 million for projects that included Kids Unlimited of Toledo, an after-school tutoring and mentoring program; Cleveland Municipal School District for implementation of the Cleveland Plan; and qualifying districts to find ways to trim transportation costs.