A Radical Assault on Public Education

A state budget that will become infamous for its assault on public education passed out of conference committee last night, 4-2, along party lines. The bill will now move to the Senate and then the House for a final vote, before being signed by the most anti-education Governor in the history of Ohio.

Students up and down the state will begin to feel the effects of the almost $3 billion in cuts to public education over the next 2 years. Communities will see local tax increases as they try to replace the hundreds of millions of dollars raided from their local budgets due to the elimination of TPP replacement money.

Further erosion of public education will occur as the General Assembly sought to reward its largest donor by allowing massive charter school expansion in the state, and having ODE act as the sponsor - a task they spectacularly failed at doing just over a decade ago.

Finally, the General Assemby sought to override the will of the voters and insert SB5 like language in the bill, curtailing collective bargaining rights and installing ill-conceived teacher evaluations based on student test scores.

Under changes yesterday, every district by the start of the 2013-14 school year must adopt a new teacher-evaluation system that conforms to a framework the state Department of Education is to develop this year. That framework will require that 50 percent of an evaluation must be tied to student academic performance, a provision that follows a key element of the federal Race to the Top program. More than half of Ohio districts are participating in that program, sharing in about $400 million in funding.

However, only schools participating in the Race to the Top program would be required to pay teachers according to a performance-based system, based on the evaluation ratings, level of license and whether the teacher is "highly qualified" under federal law.

For schools not in Race to the Top, merit pay would be optional. They could continue to pay teachers based on experience and educational training.

The budget bill also would prohibit all districts from using seniority as the preference when determining the order of layoffs.

Sen. Michael Skindell, D-Lakewood, a member of the committee, objected to the evaluation provision, arguing that it did not get sufficient debate and was too similar to merit-pay language that was part of Senate Bill 5, which weakens collective-bargaining power for public workers and is likely to be challenged on the November ballot.

We will now have a bifurcated education system in Ohio, where teachers will be treated differently depending upon whether their school was a RttT participant or not. We will also have to wait and see if this radical legislation puts Ohio's RttT grant money at risk.

The effects of this budget will be felt by Ohioans for a very long time, as the very fabric of our public education system has been picked apart.