Wednesday, June 22, 2005

An abysmal state budget for education.

Two things got me back into the grassroots activism of my younger days: George Bush and the realization that the Ohio General Assembly wants to dismantle the public school system.

After two campaigns -- one electoral and one legislative -- I am O for 2.

Due to the lateness of the hour, I am posting an excerpt of the postmortem on the education I sent out to my grassroots education advocacy network:

The state budget for the next two years is all but final now, and it is not what we hoped, to say the least. The final outcome can be viewed two ways. On the one hand you can say that the grassroots lobbying effort was unprecedented in its breadth and intensity, that in a year when revenue was extremely tight and in a General Assembly teeming with hostility toward public education, we held the line on some important items and made gains on others.

On the other hand, you could say that we got our butts handed to us.

* * *

All in all, I am saddened by the outcome but excited by the networks of parents and community activists that are coming together across the state to press our case going forward. We got beat in one battle in what promises to be a long, hard-fought campaign.

On to the specifics:

The Bad

Lets get this out of the way and try to end on positive notes. Here are the worst parts of the education bill.

· Expansion of the voucher program. As originally proposed, the vouchers were to be worth about $3000, to be charged of each school district’s SF-3 (i.e., taken out of the state share). In the final bill, this has grown to $5000 for high school and $4250 for K-12. How much it will hurt depends on how much it is used. The bite still is not as bad as that of charter schools for most students.
· Weakening of charter school caps. The Senate version of the budget contained a number of provisions improving accountability for charter schools. The final version has riddled the caps with loopholes.
· Elimination of the Cost of Doing Business Factor. Over the long run, this could hurt. For the next two years everyone is held harmless.
· Elimination of the Legislative Office of Education Oversight. Much of what we know about the shortcomings of charters comes from the work of this office. Generally when a government agency is zeroed-out, it is because it isn’t working. This one is gone because it worked too well.
· Schools get none of the windfall. Much of the last-minute deliberations were due to an unexpectedly high revenue stream. Instead of making a substantial investment in educations, the legislature socked most of it away in the Rainy Day Fund, and used the balance primarily to lessen cuts in Local Government Funds.

The Good

· No one goes down. In terms of overall funding, this was the big change from the budget as proposed. Everyone is essentially frozen for the next two years.
· New levy options for school districts. Now a school district can go to the ballot to ask for a municipal income tax hike or a levy on property tax that grows up to four percent a year. This is an attempt to ameliorate the effects of H.B. 920.
· Study on insurance plan. Since health insurance inflation is one of the primary challenges to funding education, the Blue Ribbon Task Force recommended putting all state teachers into an insurance pool to reduce costs. Rather than create such a pool from whole cloth, the legislature wisely chose to put together some real data on how such a plan would work first.
My ass hurts from getting kicked this hard. I'm going to bed now.