Speaking in front of Ohio school administrators Thursday, Gov. John Kasich unveiled a surprisingly progressive-sounding education reform plan that seeks to diminish school funding inequality, but it also expands Ohio’s flawed voucher program.
Kasich said the plan will not cut any school district’s funding, but it will work to reduce gaps between the wealthy and poor. Currently, the poorest school district can get $700 to $800 per pupil for 20 mills of property taxes, while the wealthiest districts can get as much as $14,000 per pupil. The plan will eliminate much of that gap, according to Kasich.
Kasich’s plan will open up extra funding for students with severe disabilities and students who need to learn English, on top of a $300 million “innovation fund” that will reward schools with grants for initiatives that improve learning and teaching.
The plan will also expand the state’s voucher program to provide private school tuition for any family below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — about $46,000 for a family of four.
But the expansion of “school choice” through more vouchers may not be a good thing. A previous Policy Matters Ohio report found expanded school choice can have negative effects on education, including worse results for students and teachers.
Kasich justified his proposals by claiming, “The Lord is watching us as we make an effort to give our children the knowledge that they want in order to be successful and to pursue their God-given destinies.”
He also said the program is fully funded, which was made possible by extra revenue gained from Ohio’s economic rebound.
On judging his proposals, Kasich said, “We need to think about this not in isolation. We need to think about this over the course of the last couple years.”
Taking the governor at his request, his administration actually signed off on education cuts in the past couple years. Cuts Hurt Ohio, a website that tracks budget cuts enacted by Kasich, shows funding to education was cut statewide by $1.8 billion. For Hamilton County, $117 million in education funding was cut.
Kasich also helped push a few education initiatives through the Ohio legislature. During the press conference, he cited his Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, which forces schools to hold back students who aren’t “proficient” in reading. Kasich also pointed to the new school report cards, which use an A-to-F grading system to give more transparency to parents and enforce higher standards for schools.
The plan will require approval from the Ohio legislature to become law. It also may face scrutiny from courts; the Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled the state's school funding system relies too much on local property taxes.