Friday, June 01, 2007

My head on ONN and other education news

Last night I went to the Education Forum sponsored by America Votes and several other organizations, including Progress Ohio, who hosted the event at their HQ. My primary objective was to hear a more organized pitch on state education policy than I've managed to get so far, with a secondary objective of trying to actually meet some of the folks I only know by name. I didn't do so well at either.

Things started out in a promising manner. I met Lorraine Bieber, of the League of Young Voters, I scooped up some literature, I actually recognized a handful of people by sight. The forum started off okay, as well. I'm not sure I'd call it a "smashing success," but then again, I realize that I'm not quite sure what success would be. There were three speakers: Darold Johnson of the OFT, who described why a ballot initiative for a Constitutional Amendment was necessary, and gave a description of the basic outline of the GIRFOF amendment. State Representative Tracy Heard (D-Columbus) explained the current status of Strickland's education budget, and Tom Beck, a teacher at Worthington H.S. (and former officeholder in both the OEA and Worthington Education Association) gave an overview of how NCLB has affected education generally, and how it has succeeded and (mostly) failed in addressing the problems it was written to address.

Q&A was done by handing cards in with written questions, and I was fortunate enough to have moderator Marian Harris (DFA and Statehouse candidate) read mine first. I'll attempt a verbatim recall:

As Tom Beck said, the most glaring problems with our educational system are the inequities that exist among our school districts, and as Rep. Heard said, our goal is to have an 'adequate and equitable' education system, and finally, Darold Johnson explained how there is a current proposal that would guarantee adequate funding...
Is equitable education attainable? Worth pursuing?

Johnson and Heard took on the question in turn. The answers weren't the greatest, and I wasn't sure if Darold Johnson was actually answering the question I asked, but between the two of them, I thought I could distill a fairly consistent response, which can be summarized as:

Creating equality is not going to happen any time soon. There is a basic inequality in that some districts have enough resources to educate their students, and some don't. Ensuring adequate funding solves inequality at that level.

Fair enough. But ultimately, as far as I'm concerned, not good enough.

The young man in charge of collecting signatures and recruiting petitioners and I had a brief chat outside afterwards. He asked me what bloggers thought of the amendment. I said that most were holding off on giving any strong opinions. He wasn't surprised. I then went back in and tried to introduce myself to Karen Gasper, mishandled that, and fled in embarrassment. I'm sorry, Ms. Gasper.

So, to wrap up any newsiness here, the forum was sort of a soft rally in advance of the big signature push, a cause which Progress Ohio is also assisting. The room, although small, was packed. Folks from education, labor, and progressive organizations made up the bulk of the audience. The main messages were that schools need more money, the state should be the source of that money, and that we need to get to work supporting both Strickland's budget in these last days of Senate and Conference Committee deliberations and the GIRFOF amendment.

Oh yeah, if you see the photo at PO or the shots on ONN, I'm sitting in the back row, on the aisle, on the left. They didn't put the National Spelling Bee on TV back in 1985, but getting my scalp on local cable eases that yearly pain a bit.


Paul said...


You own excellent correlation analysis suggests that more money doesn't help unless it comes from local sources. I think we both know that this is not a cause-effect relationship, but rather a symptom. There are qualitative difference between urban and suburban school districts, and equalizing the money spent by the school system won't fix that.

I won't repeat a comment I made in Jill's blog, but the short version is that I don't this the amendment is really about educating kids. It's about securing the income stream for the members of the teachers' union, and is the primary reason the teachers are so much in support of it.

The mainstream media in Ohio has completely failed to dig into the school funding issue and reveal the truth. I fear it is up to us in the blogsphere to do that, and we won't get there by making this a blue/red conversation.

As always, a key question for me in any public policy debate is: "where does the money come from, and where does it go." If that question had been asked a few years ago, I don't think we'd be in Iraq today. In this case the money comes from the wealthy districts and goes to the members of the teachers' union. That's not the end of the story, but it's certainly a key element.


Anonymous said...

Hi. The fact that the amendment, while requiring the state to fund a high quality education, doesn't require local school district to actually deliver that education, seems to validate Paul's point that the amendment is not about the kids but about the adults.