May 7, 1998
The overwhelming defeat of State Issue #2, the proposed penny-on-the-dollar increase in the state sales tax for school aid and property tax relief, raises an obvious question: "Where do we go from here?"
State policy makers have failed to respond to the March, 1997, Ohio Supreme Court ruling upholding the previous decision of the Perry County Common Pleas Court, which ordered a "complete and systematic" overhaul of Ohio's school funding system. There are many who doubt that the Court's mandate would have been met even if the Issue had passed. Now, there is no doubt Ohio is operating a system of schools which does not provide adequacy and equity in the education of our children.
In the years since Joseph F. Murphy, now Chairman of Educational Leadership at Vanderbilt University, and I wrote the article, "School Funding Plans Offer Some Drawbacks - Side Effects Could Hurt," for The Dispatch on March 30, 1979, little has changed. That article featured a cartoon with a "mechanic" attempting to demolish a car labeled "Ohio's School Funding" with a sledgehammer. His partner cries out, "Wait! It's not that simple! Let's not make things worse!" In nearly 20 years, policy makers are still attempting to swing sledgehammers with little understanding of the basic equity issue.
In a July 13, 1997 full page Dispatch Insight article, SchoolMatch Executive Vice President Steven M. Sundre and I attempted to simplify the issues. We focused on relating the funding system to the needs of children and how they learn. While we received many phone calls, even from lawmakers, commending our work, we had little impact, apparently, on State Issues #1 or #2. The fact remains that in light of Issue #2's failure, there still are only two major building blocks affecting the way children learn: TIME and RESOURCES.
The education community, with good reason, has been quick to defend U.S. schools in light of recent international comparisons of student performance. Last February, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, involving 41 nations and more than a half a million students showed the U.S.A. to be in 19th place in mathematics literacy, with science literacy results ranking us 16th.
The fact is, much of this has to do with the number of school days children spend in "time-on-task." In Japan, the school year is 240 days, and in Israel, it is 215 days. Even Canada's 188 day school year is roughly 10 days more than Ohio youngsters actually spend in classrooms. Any school funding system should provide for more days of schooling for children from homes with low parent education and family income levels, unless the children score at grade level or above on existing nationally normed achievement tests. This is not a wild and crazy idea. It is essentially already part of the school reform efforts in the nation's third largest school system - the Chicago Public Schools.
Simply put, school funding should include dollars targeted at the school calendar to increase instruction for those who need additional assistance in order perform at higher levels.
The quagmire surrounding school resources cannot be easily cleared. For example, it's hard to understand how a major public utility or manufacturing firm can serve an entire region, but only pay taxes that benefit the district of its specific geographic location. Likewise, the courts have focused on the unequal school facilities throughout the Buckeye State. And the notion that somehow districts with higher property values and expensive homes require more resources to educate the children within escapes common sense.
The central issue in the resource area has to be the quality of the teaching staff. The fact is that higher paying districts are in a position to more effectively recruit both beginning and experienced teachers and administrators. On the other hand, the major equity issue related to both fair treatment of staff and students can be expressed in form of a question: Is merely paying already employed teachers higher relative salaries going to enhance the education of students in "tax poor" school districts?
If the resource issue is really related to a difference in staff quality, perhaps the desired solution, in these times of little teacher mobility, is to actually move teachers from district to district, reassigning effective teachers to areas where their skills are needed most. Perhaps personnel costs should be separated from other costs in the form of some time of "grandparent clause" for existing staff.
If the issue is not related to a difference in quality of staff, what is the point of equalizing funding?
New staff to districts could be cost equalized through a statewide salary schedule, with allowances for higher costs associated with urban school districts. In any event, the resource and teacher quality connection needs to be addressed, not ignored.
Hopefully, the defeat of Issues #1 and #2 will rally those concerned about the education of children around a central purpose - improving teaching and learning. There is a great deal of research that continues to tell us to look at time and resources as we attempt a redesign.
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data