Statehouse leaders did the smart thing. They avoided risking the same mistake. They did so by putting off efforts to overhaul the state’s ill-conceived system for intervening when school districts perform poorly. Recall how the current system arrived, John Kasich and team hustling to passage in one day what has proved unpopular and ineffective, mostly because it neglects the value of local input in crafting and implementing an improvement plan. This has been the case in the first three interventions, in East Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown.
So there is a consensus about the need to make major repairs. Missing is what the approach precisely would entail. Now lawmakers have an opportunity to get the fix right. Rather than rush something inadequate, they included in the recently enacted state budget a one-year moratorium on new interventions, though that doesn’t bring the necessary immediate relief to the districts currently dealing with state takeovers.
In signing the state budget bill, Mike DeWine rightly put the challenge to lawmakers: Let’s act with urgency to get this done. He was speaking to that difference between quick and hurried.
There already has been much discussion at the Statehouse, the most productive led by Peggy Lehner, the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. The task ahead involves making thoughtful choices about the pieces in a new system.
The governor has described the appropriate framework. There must be a larger role for the local school board and broader community. Under the Kasich system, the state forms an Academic Distress Commission, and the commission selects a chief executive with sweeping authority to run the district. Not surprisingly, this setup risks strong local resistance, recent experience teaching that without community backing, little progress is likely to follow.
Districts have faced intervention after three consecutive overall F grades on the state Department of Education report cards. The governor wants the state to act earlier and in a more collaborative way, getting on top of problems and thus avoiding a full intervention. He acknowledges such early steps may require additional resources. He says he’s ready to back such support.
Why not put the onus on local districts and stay away from the heavier hand of the state? The House took this direction in its budget plan. The concern goes to sufficient accountability. Read the DeRolph school-funding rulings of the Ohio Supreme Court, and the reasoning is plain: Public education is a state responsibility That is not to say the state has met its complete obligation. Yet if school districts are performing poorly, the state is positioned to insist on better results and to see that the schools improve.
This is the reasonable balance discussed by the governor and advocated by Peggy Lehner. The Kettering Republican put forward a plan that would permit any district with an F grade to seek “turnaround assistance” from a new State Transformation Board, consisting of the state superintendent, the chancellor of higher education and three appointees of the governor. The board and the local schools would conduct what Lehner describes as a “deep dive” analysis of the district’s problems. The district then would craft an improvement plan.
Such a board may not be the final answer. The approach heads in the right direction. It sets the stage for a productive few months, Lehner returning to the job soon and hoping for passage by early October. What hovers over all of this is that struggling districts are those with students living in poverty, in rural and urban areas. Many arrive in the classroom unprepared. No district improvement plan will succeed without those students receiving from the governor and lawmakers the sustained support and attention they need.