Having already published our two through five biggest education stories of the year, here is our considered number one.
1. The Education Busting Budget (HB153)
HB153 is perhaps the single most anti public education piece of legislation ever passed by Ohio's General Assembly, it passed on a party line vote with Republicans in the house and Senate voting for it. It was quickly ushered through while the contentious fight over SB5 was at full boil.
The bill sought to attack public education in three main ways
SB5 in the Budget
Much of the education provisions in SB5 were cloned into the budget. The budget contained some almost identical policies as SB5, from teacher pay to evaluations, seniority and continuing contracts. These policy riders were all snook into the budget for fear they would be eliminated if SB5 were repealed. By the time the bill had passed, some of these provisions had been changed, but school districts and the department of education would be left scrambling to both understand the meaning of many of the provisions, and figure out just how to implement them in the short timeframe set by law.
None of the provisions were developed with any collaboration or deliberation, instead they were worked out in a smoke filled conference committee room between just a handful of lawmakers, none of whom have any education policy experience or background.
Much of 2012 will be the story of how these provisions in the budget will be implemented. Thankfully with the repeal of SB5, educators will have a much larger say in that development and adoption than they otherwise would have.
The budget also contained a host of provisions designed to shift public education dollars into private hands. The first means was to increase the availability of vouchers, reduce charter school accountability, and all but eliminate the cap on charter schools. So egregious was this plan, that it became the largest point of contention of the entire bill. Much like the fight over HB136, people from all sides of the education spectrum lined up to oppose these half-baked measures.
The budget also raised from the dead a previous policy that was so disastrous it was repealed - allowing ODE to sponsor charter schools, in the same budget bill that was slashing ODE's budget by $6.3 million.
As a consequence of this budget many students are going to be receiving a lower quality education in a system with less checks and balances, while simultaneously taking much needed monies away from school districts struggling to deliver quality to the other 95% of Ohio's students who attend traditional public schools. If people thought Ohio's charter experiment was bad before, it's about to get an awful lot worse.
That Giant Sucking Sound
None of the things mentioned so far had any reason to be included in a budget bill, other than political expediency, but legislators left the worst for last. While Republicans tried to portray the budget as a "Jobs Budget", in fact it is proving to be an opportunity and job killing budget. By shifting money away from schools to balance the state budget, Statehouse Republicans and the governor slashed over $2 billion from public education, despite vocal calls to stop the drastic cuts to services, especially our schools, that would threaten economic recovery and our children's success, and all this on top of transferring millions via vouchers and charter expansion.
We are now seeing the impacts of these cuts in educator job loss announcements such as this one. Voters are bound to see class sizes increase, opportunities for students will decrease and no doubt more levies will be appearing on the ballot to make up for the devastating cuts made by the state.
In order to deliver these cuts and excursive some political muscle the governor also abolished the evidence based funding formula developed by his predecessor, after months and months of wide collaboration. In its place was put a
make it up as you go along "bridging formula" that appears to have no rhyme nor reason and leaves districts in a state of not knowing what their funding stream is going to look like in the near future. We're going to be headed well into 2012 with this uncertainty as the governor just announced that a new formula is going to be delayed. The complexity of funding Ohio's education system is perhaps something that ought to have been considered before scrapping a system that had taken thousands of collaborative hours to develop and deploy.
Over all then, the budget is going to have a lasting negative impact on Ohioans and their education system. It introduced ill conceived education policies, expanding the failed charter experiment, but most of all, slashed funding to below dangerous levels. This is why the budget is our #1 story of 2011.