What kind of governor will Mike DeWine be? He spent his first week in office outlining the answer. That effort included an appearance at the Akron Roundtable, during which the governor addressed a range of matters, from the algae afflicting Lake Erie to the value of “nanodegrees” in preparing Ohioans for a changing workplace. Yet more than anything, he talked about children, especially those who are at risk.
The governor clearly wants his term defined by what he and others at the Statehouse can do to put such children in a better position to succeed. “That’s my vision. That’s my goal,” he told the Roundtable audience.
His initiatives include adding resources for agencies with the responsibility to protect abused and neglected children. Many of the agencies are overwhelmed by the opioid epidemic. It is “not acceptable,” as he said, that Ohio ranks 50th for its support of such children services.
The governor wants to increase home visits to aid disadvantaged pregnant women to help ensure they receive the necessary care and information as part of reducing high rates of infant mortality. He proposes to improve the quality of public preschool and child care. Today, as he reminded, 80 percent of participating children across the state are not in high-quality programs.
Yet there was something else the governor said about children and education that deserves highlighting. The comment came in response to a question from the audience about school funding for primary and secondary schools, that perennial headache for governors, lawmakers and those on the ground in school districts. The state still has not addressed properly inequities and inadequacies, especially for poor, or low-wealth, schools, though two decades have passed since the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the state to do so.
DeWine cautioned: “I don’t have a magic wand,” adding that it is certain his budget plan will not please all. What he did share is the “philosophical underpinning” of his approach. As he next put it: “It takes more money to educate poor kids,” adding, “That’s a fact.”
These words are significant in view of the many in the legislature and elsewhere who do not subscribe to such thinking. Yet the governor hits the mark. Research does show that money matters in achieving improved academic outcomes for at-risk children. A study released two years ago looked at 15,000 people born between 1955 and 1985. For those who were poor, a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending resulted later in higher earnings, fewer in poverty and an additional six months of education.
The governor was quick to note that it is crucial how the money is spent. He stressed the value of “wraparound” services, providing at-risk students with the necessary support to counter the trauma of poverty, from mental health counselors to tutors to effective after-school programs. As it is, Ohio overall sees more money going to the classrooms of its wealthiest districts than its most disadvantaged.
The governor made an additional point at the Roundtable worth bearing in mind: “If we don’t care about them [children burdened by poverty], care about your own kids, your own grandkids, because the society they are going to live in, that we’re going to turn over to them, is going to be very different if we have a group of underclass, of people who don’t have the education, who don’t have the tools that they need to be able to make a decent living.”
“Change a child, and you change that child for generations, and you move us forward as a state,” the governor said. Now comes the big task of finding the resources and attracting the followers to make the difference he seeks.