Thursday, September 22, 2016

Online school attendance, funding issue presents unique opportunity for change

 A lawsuit filed by the Electronic Classroom
of Tomorrow raises bigger questions about
howOhio should fund schools - or students -
in the future.
There's a school attendance debate raging in Ohio and the outcome impacts more than just students and parties in a lawsuit.

The debate raises a bigger question of double standards when it comes to attendance and whether or not funding based upon attendance is the right way to allocate state monies.

It also presents Ohioans with an opportunity to truly think "outside the box" when it comes to providing kids with an education.

But in order to understand that bigger question and the opportunities, some background is necessary.

At issue in a lawsuit filed earlier this year is whether or not ECOT, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, has to provide student log-in data to the Ohio Department of Education and whether or not such log-in data can be used to determine ECOT's funding.

Several things brought us to this point:

  • In 2014, Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) issued a report showing that Ohio's community schools - also known as charters - were not doing well.
  • House Bill 2 - an overhaul of the state's rules regarding charter schools - was passed
  • A preliminary audit of ECOT was conducted in March

The CREDO report highlighted several issues in the way Ohio's charters are structured and recommended more accountability and transparency, especially for charters that contract with outside management firms to be their operators.

The report also raised concerns about how online, or e-schools, are measured in terms of the performance of the students.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute followed up with 10 policy recommendations to address the problems revealed in the report,

The result was House Bill 2, passed in 2015 and effective Feb 1, 2016.

Included in that measure was a requirement for each e-school to keep an accurate record of each individual student's participation in learning opportunities each day.

But the bill was effective half-way through the year and when the state conducted a preliminary attendance audit of ECOT in March, it found students were only spending about an hour a day logged in to the computer, meaning they couldn't achieve the required 920 hours of online learning in the school year.

ECOT is paid based upon the number of students enrolled. Without proof of the required 920 hours, the state could require ECOT to return the funds it received for each student.

According to numerous media reports, the amount could be as high as $80 million out of the $106 million total ECOT received.

ECOT sued to prevent the state from using the on-line attendance data as the criteria for funding.

There's no innocent party in this mess, except the student.

HB 2 took effect mid-year and most of the on-line schools had their software up and running back in September for the start of the school year.

Changing the software to monitor log-in times isn't just a matter of coding; students and parents would have to be trained on the proper way to do the log-in and mid-year implementation presents a logistical issue for e-schools because their students are spread across the state.

The state says their manual for conducting reviews of attendance has always given them the ability to examine log-in data, regardless of HB 2, but ECOT says that if that's the case, then the requirement is an agency rule and should have gone through the official rule-making process, including a public comment period, before being implemented. It did not.

Compounding all this is the fact that ECOT has a contract with the state that they say governs the information they must provide - except the contract has no expiration date and has been in effect since 2003.

Clearly everyone agrees that students should be logged-in and participating in learning more than one hour a day, otherwise, the discussion would be about the minimum requirement of 920 hours - and it's not.

But if the state is going to base funding for an e-school on how many hours students are actually participating on line throughout an entire year, shouldn't that same criteria apply to other, traditional schools as well?

Currently, traditional district schools in Ohio take attendance in what is known as "October Count Week." It's one week, usually with a lot of hype and incentives, where attendance is taken and reported to the state. That attendance number determines how much state funding will go to the district.

Ohio law addresses issues of truancy, non-attendance and switching schools, so there is follow-up for when a student stops attending.

But the state doesn't come back in June and deduct funding when a school's students haven't attended the full amount of required hours.

So why should it do so for e-schools?

In 2012, it was discovered that several districts across the state were scrubbing attendance/test data in order to remove poorly-performing students from the test scores reported to the state. As a result of the scandal, the state auditor conducted reviews of various districts and made a series of recommendations.

In the final report, the auditor recommended "basing state funding upon year-long attendance numbers, i.e., that money follow the student in approximate real time. Doing so would create an environment in which school districts that currently use attendance incentives for October Count Week—often with great success—would themselves have incentives to encourage attendance throughout a student’s entire year. Importantly, schools that break enrollment under such a system would suffer a loss of funding as a result." 

In a recent appearance at the Columbus Metropolitan Club, Auditor Dave Yost said the "nature of online learning makes it impossible to base funding on attendance."

He has a point. A student could log in, go outside or watch TV or even sleep, and come back five hours later and log-off. There is no way the e-school can really know what a student is doing when they log in.

Yost said the state should transition e-school funding to "a system based on information learned." He made a similar suggestion at the Ohio Charter School Summit.

"At the end of the day, we’re trying to buy a process that produces a numerate, literate citizen,” Yost said. “Why not pay for learning instead of hours in a seat or hours in front of a screen?"

Good question.

If we're going to pay for learning for e-schools, why not pay for learning for all schools, traditional district schools and charters?

What is the purpose of two different measures when it comes to funding?

And if we're going to change the criteria for funding, why not entertain a complete revamping and let the funding the follow the child?

Let's think outside the box:

Ohio could allocate the state's funding to the parent and child and let all schools compete to provide the education. Based upon the family's choice, the school gets the child's allocation. Parents would then be able to choose the school that best fits the individual needs of each child and the school's performance (test scores, state report card, etc...) will be a criteria parents can use to make the decision.

Such a process would result in schools getting funding based upon performance, as Yost suggests, except it will be the parents making the decision rather than the state or the district.

And states already utilize a similar method with SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, where funds are allocated to individuals who choose certain authorized items at any of a number of locations. The approach for education funding could work in a similar way.

The problem is that too many districts and unions would object to such a complete overhaul of funding.

But times are changing. We have Millennials, the parents of the future, who are used to online activities. They prefer a sharing economy (think Airbnb) and take for granted instant access to information on everything from the healthiest foods to reviews about attractions.

They're also used to relying on user ratings to help them make decisions about where to eat, what events to attend, where to stay or which Uber driver to use. As they have children, they will employ the same processes for evaluating schools and they'll wonder why, unlike everything else in their lives, they are limited in choice by their zip code.

With all the things going on in Ohio, now would be a good time to completely rethink how we provide a quality education that meets the needs of each individual student.

The biggest question is this:  do we have the will to do what it takes?

Friday, September 09, 2016

It's time for Ohio charter, traditional public schools to follow same standards

In 2015 following a series of scandals and reports, Ohio passed a law that revised how charter schools and their sponsors would be evaluated.

Toledo Public School's Pickett Academy
has been in academic emergency, or failing,
for more than a decade. Don't its 
students deserve something better?
The intent was to provide more accountability of the schools and the organizations (sometimes private for-profit companies) that sponsor them, especially in light of several reports that showed certain charter schools were performing worse than their traditional public school counterparts.

The effect of the legislation is that sponsors are being pushed to close non-achieving charter schools. Ohio charter schools - which are all public schools - educated just under 124,000 student in the 2014-15 school year.

According to information from the Ohio Department of Education, as reported by the Columbus Dispatch, as many as 19 charter schools closed this school year:

"Eleven were dropped by their sponsors for poor performance; the eight others closed voluntarily.
"Last year, 14 charter schools shut their doors. Three closed because of failing grades and six for financial reasons, according to state records. The reasons for the five other closings were unclear."
The new law was having the desired effect of shutting down poorly-performing schools.

According to a summary from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, public charter schools are automatically closed under the following conditions:

  • Schools serving no higher than grade three: For the 2013-14 school year, will be automatically closed if for two of the past three years has been in Academic Emergency OR has received an “F” in the Kindergarten through 3rd grade literacy measure.
  •  Schools serving any grade four through eight, but no grade above nine: For the 2013-14 school year, will be automatically closed if for two of the past three years was rated Academic Emergency AND showed less than one year of growth in either reading or math OR has received an “F” for the performance index score AND an “F” for the value added score.
  •  Schools offering any grade ten through twelve: For the 2013-14 school year, will be automatically closed if for two of the past three years has been in Academic Emergency OR has received an “F” for the performance index score and has not met the annual measurable objectives.
 No one really has any objection to these standards.

In fact, a stakeholder group, which includes representatives from the Ohio Association of Charter School Authorizers, the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Thomas B Fordham Foundation, welcomed that state's desire to implement a Sponsor Evaluation System and increase the accountability of charter school sponsors.

They recently released a list of specific recommendation they believe will help ODE "provide accurate and credible compliance ratings for sponsors in Ohio" by the law's October deadline.

So the state is well on its way to ensuring that all charter schools are held to high standards and are actually improving the performance of the students who attend them - and to increasing the accountability and transparency of the organizations that sponsor and authorize the schools.

But charters aren't the only low-performing schools in the state. Traditional public schools also have issues.

The questions now before Ohioans are these:

If we're going to close poorly-performing public charter schools based on their performance, are we going to close poorly-performing traditional public schools based on the same criteria?

If we're going to force sponsors to be accountable for the schools they authorize, are we going to hold public boards of education to the same standard of accountability for the schools they run?

Why are we establishing two sets of criteria for public schools based solely on their designation as either a charter or traditional school?

If we really want to ensure that all children have access to a quality education that fits their individual needs, shouldn't we hold all schools to the reasonable standards set for charters, especially considering the fact that many of the children most impacted by poorly-performing schools are stuck in them because of their zip code?

Look at Pickett Elementary School in the Toledo Public School District. If it were a charter school, it'd be closed by now.

Pickett's grades for the 2012-13 school year were a D in the Performance Index (overall results of students on state tests) and an F in Indicators Met (how many students measured proficient in reading and math for state tests).

For the 2013-14 school year, the school again scored a D on the Performance Index and an F on Indicators Met. Additionally, it scored Fs in two new categories:  Gap Closing - is every student succeeding regardless of income, race, ethnicity or disability; and K-3 Literacy - are more students learning to read in kindergarten through third grade.

The 2014-15 report card for the school was even worse:  An F on the Performance Index, an F on the Indicators Met, an F on Gap Closing, an F on K-3 Literacy and an F in the new category of Progress, which measures how much the student learns in a year (did they get a year's worth of growth).

Prior to 2012-13, schools had a different rating system.  Pickett has received the lowest designation of Academic Emergency since the 2003-04 school year.  In 2002-03, they were at Academic Watch. The most number of Indicators Met was two in 2005-06 and in no year did they attain the status of Adequate Yearly Progress.

Report cards prior to 2002-03 are not available on the state's website.

So why are 19 charter schools closing this year but Pickett, which has been failing for over a decade, is still "trying" to educate students?

Have any traditional schools in Ohio closed due to low-performance as is required of the charter schools?

Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Fordham Institute, says answering that question is tricky.

"The criteria isn't the same," Churchill explained. "It's hard to track (closures) back to performance. You'll see districts closing schools due to loss of enrollment or part of an overall financial plan. While low-performance ranking might be a factor in those policy decisions, it's not the primary one."

Churchill called the situation "disappointing."

"You have schools in the district sector that fail year after year and that's a problem," he said. "But Fordham did a study that showed in both districts and charters, when low-performing schools close the kids usually end up at better-performing schools and they actually do better."

Churchill said no one really wants to see a school all boarded up. "But if we're going to make student-centered decisions, there is evidence that (closing schools) helps kids in the long run," he added.

That study looked at school closures between 2006 and 2012 in the top eight urban areas in the state.

The study reveals that children displaced by closure make significant academic gains on state math and reading exams after their school closes. 
Three years after closure, the research found that displaced students overall made the following cumulative gains:
  • Students who had attended a closed district school gained forty-nine additional days of learning in reading and thirty-four additional days in math and;
  • Students who had attended a closed charter school gained forty-six additional days in math.
Further, the study reveals that students who attended a higher-quality school after closure made even greater progress. Three years after closure, displaced students who transferred to a higher-quality school made the following cumulative gains:
  • Students who had attended a closed district school gained sixty-nine additional days of learning in reading and sixty-three additional days in math and;
  • Students who had attended a closed charter school gained fifty-eight additional days of learning in reading and eighty-eight additional days in math.
So if kids are better off after a low-performing school is closed, why isn't Ohio applying the same criteria to traditional public schools as it does to charters?

According to ODE, 50 Ohio schools received an F on their actual 2014 Performance Index and 499 received a D. In the Toledo Public School District, there were no As, five Bs, 17 Cs and 27 Ds, including Pickett.

Unfortunately, the data shows that too many of the traditional schools get failing grades and, as Churchill said, "you can't just close all low-performing district schools because a child needs to have some school to attend."

Following multiple news reports in 2015 on everything from mismanagement of public funds at charter schools to bribery convictions for three charter school officials, Steven Dyer wrote at

Let's do what we can to fix this now. Forget politics. This is about saving kids. And we've got tens of thousands who need to be rescued from this system that has -- in the vast majority of cases -- lost its way amid profits and power.
While some Ohio charter critics may rejoice at this awful spate of stories for the sector, I ache for the kids and parents who this is hurting. They deserve better. And so do the taxpayers who are seeing nearly $1 billion of their state money and hundreds of millions of their local tax money go to pay for and subsidize these operations.
It's a tragedy. An entire generation of kids has now gone through this utterly broken system.  
I shudder to think of the consequences.
Multiple generations of kids have gone through failing and low-performing traditional district schools. It's a tragedy and everyone should shudder to think of the consequences.

Don't the nearly 1.75 million kids in traditional public schools deserve better as well?

Friday, September 02, 2016

Ohio school choice programs good, but could be better

Ohio ranks well when it comes to providing students with educational choices, but there is still room for improvement, a new report says.

The American Federation for Children (AFC) and the American Federation for Children Growth Fund recently reviewed 50 private school choice programs and ranked them according to their ideal program in terms of student eligibility, scholarship amount and program size, and transparency and accountability.

Ohio's Income-Based Scholarship Program, also known as the EdChoice Expansion, ranked 7th overall. The EdChoice Scholarship ranked 16th and the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program came in at 22nd.

In the Voucher category, the Income-Based Scholarship was 3rd, the EdChoice Scholarship was 9th and the Cleveland program was 10th.

Ohio's three programs in the rankings are all voucher programs. The other categories in the rankings are those that allow students to select a private, including religious, schools through tax credits or Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

Vouchers were graded according to:

  • how many students were eligible to participate in the program,
  • the average scholarship amount as a percent of the state's public school per pupil spending, 
  • accountability in terms of testing, annual financial reporting, proof of financial viability.

Despite the good rankings, all Ohio programs lost points in the grading system because participating schools are not required to provide annual financial reports or proof of financial viability. They also lost points due to limits on participation.

The Cleveland Scholarship Program is only available to students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. The EdChoice Scholarship Program is only available to students who would otherwise attend a low-performing school. The Income-Based Scholarship Program is only available to students just above the income limit to qualify for free or reduced lunches.

While Ohio's scholarships are good, AFC has recommendations for policymakers wanting to improve the programs.

It recommends increasing the cap on scholarship amounts in the Cleveland program. The average scholarship amount is $4,437 - only 43% of the state's public per pupil spending average.

"These caps should be raised so students have additional quality choices and scholarships cover more of high school private school tuition costs," the report says. "Funding should be available for robust scholarships for all eligible students who want one."

Whitney Marcavage, the report's author, says that ideally, scholarship amounts should equal the total amount of the state and local share in the state's average public per pupil spending.

"But most states don't do that," she explained. "It's not just Ohio."

She also said that in some areas, the quality of private school choices is an issue.

"Additional funding would increase the options for parents," she said. "Additional funding also spurs the demand for new schools to open or for existing schools to expand to accommodate more scholarship students."

Marcavage also said that states should look at the total amount of tuition needed for grades 9-12 and provide scholarship amounts that match 100% of the tuition.

"Most scholarships do a good job of covering elementary school tuition, but fall short when it comes to high school," she said. "Children should be able to continue their private education and not have to leave a school of choice because the scholarship isn't enough to cover the costs."

AFC also recommends eliminating the low-performing school requirement from the EdChoice program.

"Failing school programs are hard to implement and they limit choice for students whose schools may be failing them but are not officially designated as failing by the state," the report notes.

Complicating this criteria is the fact that Ohio recently changed its school grading system making it more difficult to identify which schools qualify as "low-performing" over time.

As with the Cleveland scholarships, AFC recommends increasing the EdChoice scholarship amounts which average $4,139 or 41% of the state's public school per pupil spending.

The Income-Based Scholarship Program was enacted in 2013 and had 5,594 participants in the 2015-16 school year. AFC recommends increasing the income limits so more children are eligible, but advises that low-income families should be prioritized if the limits are raised.

It suggests that partial scholarships should be eliminated and that students be allowed to stay in the program once enrolled, regardless of changes in the family income.

Since this is a new program and only covers grades K-2, the average scholarship amount is $3,567 which is 35% of the state's public per pupil spending. The average should increase as new grade levels are added each year, but scholarships are capped at $4,650 which AFC says should be raised.

When it comes to accountability, AFC says private school choice programs should be transparent and accountable to both parents and taxpayers. But what form the financial accountability should take, considering the private nature of the schools, is not identified.

Marcavage said that very few states include financial reporting as a requirement.

For example, a report showing that for each scholarship received the student attended the full year, or that refunds were issued if the student left the school would be a good start, she explained.

She also said it was important for states to verify that a school is viable, especially if it's a new school.

"The last thing you want is for a school to start up and then close half-way through the school year because it couldn't make it," she added.

Marcavage said ideally financial reports would comply with standard accounting procedures, be audited to ensure the report is free of misstatements and accurately represents the costs to educate the student, and include proof that the school is able to repay any funds that might be due to the state.

She added that the reports would be limited only to the records relating to scholarship recipients.

Ohio has two other scholarship programs but because one is for special needs students and the other is for students with autism, they were not included in the report's rankings.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Toledo magnet school is all about community

Community leaders greet students on their first day at the
Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy for Boys
(photo from Toledo Public Schools)

It was the first day of school in Toledo and Rev. John C. Jones was up early.

Not because he is a teacher or administrator. Not because he has children in the Toledo Public Schools.

He was part of a group of men recruited to greet students at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy for Boys, a magnet school in the Toledo Public School District.

"We greeted every single kid," he said. "We wished them a good year, made sure they had a good handshake, helped some fix their ties. We wanted them to see the faces of positive role models as they started the new school year."

Rev. Jones said some of the kids were a bit nervous about "walking the gauntlet," especially the kindergartners, but most had been through it before and knew what to expect.

"They were excited to come through the line," he added. "You could see the excitement in their faces. But what was more critical was the excitement in the parents' faces and their appreciation for the men for investing their time to see that their child had a good start to the year."

Rev. Jones has been involved in leadership development and education for a number of years.

"Education is the bedrock of every advancement that takes place," he said. "There are things that happen in the psyche of a child that allows them to build and develop. Positive role models are one of them. We hope the boys look at us and say, 'I can do this just like this guy in front of me who is modelling success.'"

Willie A. Ward, the principal at the Academy, said it's all about community. The school population is 98 percent African-American and more than 75 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.

"Our community has some individual and unique challenges when it comes to education," Ward said. "When our young men can see others being successful, they can internalize that success as we emphasize and urge them to be college or career ready through their education."

He explained that all the students at the Academy, regardless of their background or economic status, need to know they have the support of the community.

"It's great for the kids to be able to say 'This is my pastor and he's here to support me,'" Ward added.

The school, which serves pre-kindergarten through 6th grade, emphasizes respect, responsibility and building positive relationships with others. As a magnet school of choice, it accepts applications from anyone within the school district. Students are admitted based upon attendance and behavior as well as parent involvement, Ward said.

Parents are required to sign a contract with the school and must commit to at least 10 hours of service throughout the school year.

"Parents have to agree to be involved in their child's education and to support the direction of the school," Ward explained. "Whenever there is parental involvement, the school and the child will be successful."

During the Academy's first years as an all-boys school, the school's state report card showed improvement increasing from a 66.6 performance index to a 93.3 performance index, on a 120-point scale. By the 2011-12 school year, the students were out-performing the district average in both reading and math in grades 3 through 6.

But several things happened in the district that negatively impacted test scores and student performance.

"We had a huge change-over in staff," Ward said. "We also went up to 8th grade and then back to just 6th grade. And then the testing changed. As soon as you learn what's on the test and what the kids have to know, they change the test. We knew it was going to happen, but it still takes time to adjust."

Ward believes he now has a stable teaching staff and a good culture in the school, with "everyone on the same page in terms of the expectations of teachers, parents and students" and is confident their school report card will improve from the "F" it received for 2014-15.

He said they extended the tie requirement in the dress code to kindergartners this year, because "something as simple as a dress code can change the mindset of the children."

"We've found that if you look your best, you perform at a high level," he explained. "It's had a major impact on students and on teachers in their delivery to the students. Additionally, the teachers are here and understand the school's mission and vision. You'll see all this reflected in the (test) results for this school year."

And the reinforcement from positive role models throughout the year will continue to provide encouragement, Ward added.

"We didn't just invite the men for the first day of school," he said. "Our objective is to get these role models into the building on a regular basis."

Ward has invited them to talk with the students at lunch time, to be involved in preparations for the state achievement tests, and perhaps read with the kids.

"We want to take advantage of the fact that we have people who can come and give individual support to the students," Ward added. "Last year we got about 30 percent who came in as their schedule permitted to take part in the school."

He said that others who were not able to provide physical support made donations to help pay for field trips, clubs, celebrations and recognitions.

Rev. Jones said he is proud to be a part of the mentoring program that is being built at the Academy.

"There is research that exists that speaks to the importance of community engagement and involvement particularly in the learning for students," he said. "If you provide positive reinforcements - if they see models of that throughout the school year - they will want to emulate that behavior."

And what did the kids think?

"We took a straw poll of what they were feeling," Ward said. "The impact was huge!"

"We teach them how to give a firm handshake and to look people in the eye and show respect and this first day greeting was an opportunity for them to practice that," he added. "To hear (a student) say 'I felt really good,' and see that student with a gleam in their eye, ready to go - it was rewarding."

"We can talk all day about the negatives that revolve around our kids," Rev. Jones added. "We spend a bunch of time telling kids what they cannot do. We need to spend at least a proportionate amount of time telling kids what they can do. And that's what we're doing."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Toledo's proposed lead paint rental inspection law

The City of Toledo is considering an ordinance that would create an inspection law for rental properties that might contain lead paint.

The EPA's lead paint rental notice required for
all leases when property is rented.
Lead paint was outlawed in 1978 and Toledo has a number of homes built before then that could still have lead paint in them. Exposure to paint dust or ingesting paint chips could cause lead poisoning, especially in children. In 2014, the lastest year for which information is available, there were 239 children less than 6 years old that had lead poisoning, according to The Blade.

Under the proposal, rental properties would have to be "deemed safe" of lead paint. Owners/landlords would have to get a "lead safe certificate" - and, of course, pay a $45 fee. There would be a visual inspection and testing of dust.

If lead was found, it would have to be abated (completely removed) or interim measures would have to be taken (like painting over the old lead paint). If the lead is abated, the certificate would have to renewed every 20 years. If only interim steps are taken, the certificate would have to be renewed every four years.

This is the first time the dangers of lead paint have been addressed in Toledo. According to Toledo Parent:
In 2012, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department received a grant for $2,480,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Lead Based-Paint Hazard Control. The Health Department contracts with the City of Toledo, Department of Neighborhoods, to provide the funds for removing lead, budgeted at approximately $10,000 per dwelling, each taking three to four weeks. The 3-year program, received a one-year extension until June 30, 2016. Its goal: to treat 175 units and make them lead-free, with priority given to households with children under age six or a pregnant female.
Robert Cole, attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, reports that the program did not meet its goals. Between 2013 and the present, there were 559 intakes (people who expressed an interest in the program). Of those 186 received applications, and 157 of those met the eligibility requirements Of the 157 , only 62 have received clearance to be occupied.  With  typical removal time at 3-4 weeks, and with less than six months until the unused grant money must be returned, it is unlikely the goal will be met.
Toledo Parent also says that the city's proposed ordinance was drafted with help from the Toledo Lead Poisoining Prevention Coalition. That group, under the auspices of ABLE includes Toledoans United for Social Action, Toledo Public Schools, The Cherry Street Legacy Project, the NAACP and representatives of the University of Toledo nursing school.

But landlords are not happy about the proposed requirements - or the costs. As the Toledo Parent article mentions, the cost to remove lead paint is approximately $10,000. Certainly, painting over the lead paint is cheaper, but whichever option is selected, the additional costs will eventually, in some form or another, be passed on to the tenant, raising the cost of rent in the area.

There's another potential problem for Toledo and their efforts: Baker v. Portsmouth. 

In that case, a group of landlords sued the Ohio city of Portsmouth over its rental inspection law. The city's position was that many homes were being occupied by renters without knowing if the buildings were safe or up to existing building codes. Portsmouth had a large number of code complaints from rental properties. The solution, the city decided, was to require a Rental Dwelling Certificate of all properties available to rent. In order to get the certificate, a dwelling had to be inspected and any defects corrected. The fee for the inspections/certificate ranged from $50 up to $480 depending on how many rental units the dwelling contained.

Any owners who failed to schedule their properties for inspection were threatened with having the property condemned.

The lawsuit maintained that such inspections were a violation of the owners' Fourth Amendment rights by mandating warrantless inspections without probable cause. The court agreed and found for the landlords, requiring Portsmouth to return all inspection fees it had collected.

In making the decision, the court considered the goal of the city was the health and safety of the public, but ruled that such "special needs" were not sufficient to overcome the owner's Fourth Amendment rights.

However, in the Portsmouth case, it was the city doing the inspecting. Toledo's proposal requires private inspections, so it may not rise to the level of a Fourth Amendment violation.

But there is a federal requirement that requires disclosure to purchasers or lessees of property, including a 10-day period the purchaser or lessee to inspect for the presence of lead-based paint hazards.

One has to wonder how so many children are getting lead poisoning if the parent(s) are notified upon renting about the potential for lead-based paint in the property. Do they just gloss over the information? Do renters understand the ramifications of the notice? Do they decide to go ahead and rent because they don't understand the dangers or because they really want the unit?

If that is the case, this would seem to be an issue of education rather than of requiring a governmental action.  But this is Toledo where the mayor and council routinely create laws whenever the problem is one of individual ignorance or lack of education.  Heaven forbid that city officials believe individuals can be responsible for themselves.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Thurber's Thoughts is back!

photo via
First, please accept my apologies for being gone from regular blog posts for so long.

While writing for Ohio Watchdog, I channeled much of my "thoughts" into those articles. When that assignment concluded at the end of 2015, I decided to take a break. However, I accepted work on another project that had absolutely nothing to do with politics.

That commitment prevented me from devoting time to my blog, but that is also concluded so...

I'm back.

And boy is there a lot to say.

We can start with everyone's favorite complaint:  potholes and the state of Toledo's roads.

For over a decade, I've been warning anyone who would listen that transferring money out of the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) fund and into the General Fund to pay for every day expenses was a bad idea.

Eventually, I explained, we'd run out of money in the CIP and wouldn't have anything left for capital items - like roads and other expenses with a life of five years or more.

Wouldn't you know it, I was right and that mess erupted in the first part of the year when Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and Toledo City Council decided to ask voters to approve an increase in the payroll income tax.

Fortunately, that measure went down to defeat - resoundingly.

But it hasn't solved the problem that the city doesn't have enough money for capital items because they've raided more than $110 million out of the CIP fund.

And it's not just this mayor. Every "strong" mayor had a hand in creating the problem: spending more than what they took in and spending money on non-essential items.

Want to know just how ridiculous things got?

In February 2012, Toledo City Council *discovered* they had about $1 million more in revenue than they budgeted. But they were planning to transfer nearly $12 million out of the CIP to balance the budget. So instead of reducing the amount of the transfer to $11 million, they decided to spend that $1 million extra instead.

And what did they spend it on? A new filing system for city council and a temporary employee; additional funds for demolition of houses; additional inspectors in code enforcement, even though the department said it didn't need any; an executive director to run the previously discontinued Toledo Youth Commission; and a consultant to create an Historic Preservation Plan.

The irresponsible spending continues while former Council finance committee chairman and current City Treasurer George Sarantou, Toledo City Council and the mayor try to find a way to come up with more income rather than find a way to cut spending.

You see, there's no where else they can cut.

(At least, that's the story.)

So that's how we started the year and now we're looking at a sweetheart deal for Promedica, the city and the Metroparks.

Prime waterfront property on the East Side across from The Docks has been sitting undeveloped for decades.  Various developers have come and gone and finally, Dashing Pacific Group bought it.

Their plan was to develop it with shops and housing and take advantage of the wonderful waterfront and the new road and light posts the city installed to help with development.  But they haven't done anything on it yet and the city had a clause in the sale that said it could buy back the property after five years.

And it should tell you something about Toledo when all the developers who've had a chance at this have failed to actually *develop* prime waterfront property.

We must be the only city in the entire country that can't make a go of prime waterfront property.

But back to the sweetheart deal...

The city really doesn't have the cash to buy back the property, so Promedica has agreed to purchase the property from Dashing Pacific.  They will hold it for a bit and then sell it (for the purchase price) to the Metroparks.

The Metroparks will then make this prime waterfront property a park.

Never mind that the Metroparks has two levies that property owners pay.  In fact, the most recent one in 2012 was a 10-year levy that was supposed to generate funds for developing new parks, maintaining existing ones and preventing budget cuts. How much do you want to bet that they'll need another increase when they purchase about 100 more acres and then want to make this prime waterfront property into a park area?

Something about this isn't quite right. Why does Promedica want to purchase the land only to sell it to the Metroparks?

Can't Dashing Pacific sell it to the Metroparks without a go-between?

If the city has the ability to buy back the land, why don't they do so, especially if they've got a willing buyer in the Metroparks?

Are there some restrictions with the funding sources used to clean up the property and install roads and street lamps that prevents it from going directly to another governmental entity like the Metroparks?

Inquiring minds....

And then there is the Southwyck property.  The mall sat unused for - well, no one really remembers how long because it was such a long time.  The city finally got the property from the owner, tore down the buildings and decided to market it as an open area for development.

Oh - and they borrowed money to do the demolition.

Now there is a buyer but the city is looking at a loss on the project. As one city councilman said - they didn't buy the land in order to make a profit...

But here's the thing.  They still have a loan and, according to various media reports, they (or rather you and I) are paying about $70,000 in interest every year on that loan.

So the city is going to pay off the loan with the income from the sale, right?

No - this is Toledo, so wrong!

The city isn't planning on paying off the loan but putting the money into the CIP fund. So you and I and every other taxpayer is going to continue to pay about $70,000 in interest so the city can spend that income elsewhere.

If you're wondering what they're thinking at city hall, see above story about the 2012 budget.

Sadly, this is par for the course.

So that's the start. Coming up I'll take a look at the absolutely insane Toledo ordinance that forces any company doing business with the city to have a union contract - even if they're a non-union company. Talk about forced unionization!  Here I thought it was the union's job to organize but Toledo's Project Labor Agreement ordinance actually puts the city at the bargaining table with project bidders and forces them to adopt a union contract.

That'll be a long post so I'll save it for Monday.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ohio budgets billions more than it needs to
As the Ohio General Assembly debates the state’s biennial budget, a new report says the state is spending too much.

Gov. John Kasich’s proposed budget increases spending by $5.4 billion, “representing a trend of unsustainable public-spending growth” the 2015 Piglet Book says.

And taxpayers will end up paying nearly $1.8 billion of that increase.

The House-passed budget isn’t much better, with taxpayers footing the bill for $1.7 billion in increased spending.

Greg Lawson, a policy analyst with the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions and a co-author of the report, said now is good time to look at historical spending growth, especially with tax reforms included in the budget proposals.

“The governor wants to get rid of the income tax – and we agree with that,” Lawson said. “Our difference with him is how we get there. The solution to eliminating the income tax is to reduce spending in a strategic way over a period of time so we don’t have to look at increasing taxes elsewhere to offset that reduction, like the governor’s budget does.”

Lawson and co-author Tom Lampman say policy recommendations in the report could save taxpayers $2.6 billion in the 2016-17 budget.

One recommendation is to limit spending growth to not more than 3 percent, taking into account inflation and population.

“Some people question if it should grow even that much,” Lawson said. “But I’m a realist. Before you can run you have to be able to walk and we have yet to walk in terms of keeping spending at that 3 percent level.”

Ohio’s spending over the past 20 years was 17 percent over the rates of inflation and population, the report says.

But if the state loses population, should the spending decrease accordingly?

“A very cogent case can be made that that should happen,” Lawson said.

Overall, Ohio hasn’t lost population, “but in theory, if we do, we absolutely should reduce spending,” he said.
The second recommendation is to end corporate welfare, saving taxpayers $212.9 million.

The Piglet Book specifically names the Horseracing Development Fund, Agriculture Market Development fund and TourismOhio as examples of corporate welfare.

“You’re using a government entity to impose and collect taxes within an industry and then the government is paying to produce ads to promote the industry,” Lawson explained. “You don’t need the government to do that for you. If you want to spend that money, you can hire an advertising firm and pay them out of pooled resources from within the industry.”

Lawson said this type of “user tax” is better than using General Revenue Funds directly, but still is not something government should be doing.

“Why does it need to be funneled through a government entity? Just keep the government hands out of it and hire someone to do it for you,” he said.

It’s also duplicative.

“Attractions and areas have their own advertising budgets. Look at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the Hocking Hills area. There are numerous entities and chambers of commerce that do advertising all the time,” Lawson said. “Let thousands of marketing ideas bloom. It doesn’t need to be cycled through and have the government spend money on it.”

The third recommendation is to end government advocacy and philanthropy, saving nearly $55.7 million.

The Ohio Arts Council, the report states, receives $20.9 million in income and sales tax revenue to distribute to artists and galleries, making the state the “arbiter of taste and culture.” It says Ohioans are “more than capable” of choosing what artists to support “without the government’s guidance.”
Lawson said there were a lot of examples they could have highlighted but they tried to be pragmatic.

“We understand that changing minds on this is not something that is likely to occur overnight,” he explained. “It comes down to the core functions of government and if you decide something really is a core function, then how are you going to sustain the growth in funding that it will require?”

He says it really is about jobs and the quality of living in Ohio.

“The expanding scope of government makes cutting spending harder,” Lawson said. “As long as we keep spending like we are, when the next recession hits we’ll end up cutting a lot more of government in order to meet the budget, or we’re going to have to raise taxes and eliminate all the reforms we’ve made to date.”

Lawson said the recommendations are intended to put Ohio’s budget in the best position to weather future recessions so that the current economic growth can continue.

“We’re still not where we should be in terms of job growth,” he said. “We have some systemic problems we have yet to address and we cannot address those if we simply keep spending.”

Lawson also had a recommendation for Ohioans.

“Keep your eyes on government,” he said. “This book is just a snapshot of what is going on. We’re spending more than we need to – at all levels of government.”

But, Lawson warned, it will be a tough road to follow.

“There are a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who get it, even if they don’t always agree on the specifics,” he said. “At least there will be a dialogue and an effort at making the big-picture reforms so we can be freer and have a more prosperous Ohio.”

Gov. John Kasich’s office did not respond to a request to comment on the report and the recommendations.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Toledo pools will open - without government funding

Apparently, the City of Toledo has learned a valuable lesson:  It open city pools and doesn't have to spend limited tax dollars to do so.

According to today's paper, six pools and a splashpad, that were not funding in the city's 2015 budget, will open due to an influx of donations from companies, unions and others.

The Blade also reported that the cost of opening the pools this year would be around $400,000.

As I've previously noted on this blog, the pools are a huge money drain for the city and even the paper and administrators have finally noted that attendance has been falling over the years.

According to City of Toledo Finance Director George Sarantou, last year the pools too in only $11,437 leaving a deficit of about $350,000.

According to District 5 Councilman Tom Waniewski, that's $3,000 per child who used the pools.

The city needs to do more of this and find ways to NOT spend tax dollars, especially since it's still raiding the Capital Improvement Plan funds to pay for every day expenses.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

QOTD: Core beliefs

"These things I believe: 
That government should butt out.
That freedom is our most precious commodity and if we are not eternally vigilant, government will take it all away.
That individual freedom demands individual responsibility. 
That government is not a necessary good but an unavoidable evil. 
That the executive branch has grown too strong, the judicial branch too arrogant and the legislative branch too stupid. 
That political parties have become close to meaningless. 
That government should work to insure the rights of the individual, not plot to take them away.
That government should provide for the national defense and work to insure domestic tranquillity. 
That foreign trade should be fair rather than free. 
That America should be wary of foreign entanglements. 
That the tree of liberty needs to be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
That guns do more than protect us from criminals; more importantly, they protect us from the ongoing threat of government.
That states are the bulwark of our freedom. 
That states should have the right to secede from the Union. 
That once a year we should hang someone in government as an example to his fellows."

~  Lyn Nofziger

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Ohio should adopt education savings accounts

Photo Credit: Independent Institute
Let's face it, the demographics are not on our side.

Based upon 2030 census projections, there will be a large increase in the number of K-12 students in the United States.  The under-18 population is projected to increase 11.3 million by 2030, while Ohio's youth population is projected to decrease by about 100,000.

But that doesn't mean Ohio won't have issues with education because the over-65 population is going to continue it's current trend in the state and increase.

And what happens when the Baby Boomers (born between 1944 and 1964) reach 65? They become eligible for property tax breaks, homestead exemptions and, because they are on "fixed" incomes, less likely to support increased school funding via levies.

The bottom line is that school districts will have less funding while many in the state see an increase in the number of students.

The same old - same old, won't work ... which is why Ohio should follow Arizona and Florida in establishing an educational savings account (ESA) for all K-12 children.

Ohio is already known for the number of school choice options it has available, but an ESA could replace them all and give all parents (not just certain ones) a choice for their child's education.

ESAs work very much like a 529 college savings account, except it's the state, not the parent, adding funds to the account.

It works like this:

The state sets an amount of funding for each school-aged child.  Sometimes it's the exact amount the state would give a local school on a per-pupil basis; sometimes it's a little bit less.

The money is deposited into an ESA account and the parent can draw upon those funds for certain approved items - everything from private school tuition to tutoring to transportation to special enrichment classes that aren't offered at the local school. They can even use it for college classes while still in high school.

Anything not spent in a year rolls over and accumulates in the child's name.

The states already operate a similar system with food stamps, giving out debit-like cards to be used only for approved purchases, so this concept shouldn't be too hard to implement.

Yes, there are a lot of stories about waste, fraud and abuse in the food stamp EBT card system, but the lessons states have learned about preventing those should help them devise a similar robust system for ESAs.

Plus, having Arizona and Florida to turn to, there will be even more good advice on how to design and implement such a system in Ohio.

The future educational options should be more than just government-funded coupons that allow parents to choose between public and private schools.

We need to think about education as more than just an assembly line that we run kids through based upon their physical age.  ESAs would work well to allow parents to tailor the education to the needs of the child.

Of course there will be a lot of opposition to such a massive change - primarily from public school districts who have had a monopoly on education for so long.

But if those public school districts - teachers and administrators - really want what's best "for the children," they should allow every child to have a choice and then compete with the other options for the students.

It's certainly doable and it would allow children to have the education that best suits them - but it would take considerable political will and personal strength to make such a massive change in the structure of K-12 education.

Does Ohio have such a champion?  Probably not now. But, as the demographics show, we're going to have to do something soon or the children will be the ones who suffer the most.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Ohio looks to overhaul charter school laws

Some of the issues raised in a lawsuit
against White Hat Management are
addressed in a bill to overhaul Ohio's
charter school law.
A series of events, including a lawsuit, has led the Ohio General Assembly to propose updating the laws on charter schools.

Saying they wanted to address issues of transparency and accountability, Rep. Mike Dovilla and Rep. Kristina Roegner, both Republicans, introduced House Bill 2 which would significantly alter the relationships charter schools have with their sponsors and management companies.

Much of the language was the result of an existing lawsuit pending before the Ohio Supreme Court which deals with ownership of the equipment in a charter school.

The case is Hope Academy Broadway Campus, et al. versus White Hat Management Company et al.

The main question is whether White Hat, which Hope Academy hired to perform day-to-day management of the charter school, owns the equipment purchased for the school, or whether White Hat was merely acting as the agent for the school which would then have ownership of all goods purchased on its behalf.

And since charter schools - also called community schools - are public, there is another issue of whether or not management companies can be audited for how the public dollars are spent.

It's an intriguing case and it has implications far beyond the 10 charter schools that are part of the lawsuit. The Ohio Supreme Court ruling can have implications for any company receiving public dollars to perform a public service.

But the General Assembly didn't want to wait and thought it best to address this - and other - issues in an overhaul of the law regarding charter schools, their management companies and their sponsors.

Just to clarify, there are three entities in a public charter school. A sponsor is a local school district, an educational service center, a university or a non-profit entity. Each charter school has a governing authority which is usually a board, like traditional public schools have elected school boards.

Then there is the operator. An operator can be an individual or company that performs day-to-day management services via a contract with the sponsor; or it can be a non-profit organization that provides programming oversight, again through a contract with the sponsor, though it retains the ability to end the contract if the school fails to meet its quality standards.

Under H.B. 2, a low-performing charter school would not be allowed to change sponsors without the prior approval of the Ohio Department of Education.

It also addresses various contractual issues:

  • Contracts between sponsors and the boards must contain performance standards, including the applicable state report card measurements.
  • Contracts between sponsors and the boards must include an addendum with a detailed description of each facility and mortgage data (principle, interest and name of lender).
  • The financial plan in the contract between sponsor and board is subject to review and approval by the Ohio Department of Education and must include the most recent financial statements for the school.
  • All new and renewed contracts between the board and the operator must include provisions that address early termination of the contract, the notification procedures and a listing of facilities and property ownership.
  • Sponsors must provide a yearly report of the amount and type of expenditures made to provide oversight and technical assistance to each school.
  • Requires copies of financial and enrollment records be sent monthly to the sponsor, the board members and the fiscal officer.

There are also a number of provisions that address conflict of interest:

  • Employees of a school district, an educational center or a vendor who has a contract with a district or service center cannot serve on the board of a charter school for which the district or educational center is a sponsor.
  • Charter school board members will have to file a yearly disclosure statement that identifies any potential conflicts of interest.
  • Requires that the designated fiscal officer of a charter school be employed or under a contract with the board of the school.

The bill mandates that the state Department of Education develop, maintain and publish an annual performance report for all operators of schools in the state. It also requires the DOE, by the end of the year, to make recommendations regarding performance standards for charter schools for which a majority of their population is students with disabilities, and determine the feasibility of removing such schools' exemption from permanent closure.

Not all the provisions in the bill will make it through committees in the House and Senate.  In fact, during sponsor testimony in the House Education Committee, Dovilla called the bill a "starting point" for discussion about the overhaul of charter schools.

And there are a number of ideas which the House Education Committee members asked about, including whether or not the law to close charter schools that score a D or F three years running should apply to traditional district schools; whether there should be a residency requirement for the charter school board members, and whether charter school board members who are volunteers can be subjected to the same disclosure and conflict-of-interest rules as traditional school board members.

While the bill has generally been well-received, with the understanding that some provisions may be added and subtracted, one group thinks it doesn't go far enough in spelling out ownership of the assets used in a charter school.

Sandy Theis, executive director of ProgressOhio, a left-leaning policy group, said that requiring contracts "to delineate which gets what assets after the contracts expire...misses the point: Neither should own the assets. They belong to the taxpayers who paid for them."

Ohio Education Association President Becky Higgins also called the bill a starting point. Her organization and Innovation Ohio spelled out three principles they have for overhauling charter schools:

  • the accelerated closing of failing charter schools
  • making charter schools subject to the same public records laws as traditional public schools
  • funding public charters in a way that does not penalized district schools

Rep. Bill Hayes, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he'd support faster closings if the state could identify a school that was actually failing. He also said he'd be interested in applying those same standards to traditional public schools.

But Higgins said No Child Left Behind already has standards for closing district schools that are failing and that any state law would have to align with the federal one.

But even with NCLB, there are still public schools that are failing:  Pickett Academy in Toledo is one example.

The Ohio Association of Charter School Authorizers supports the bill, but with a few reservations. Peggy Young, president of OACSA, urged members to judge sponsors on their outcomes, not just on how they spend money.

The bill is still pending in the House Education Committee.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

If Pickett were a charter school, it'd be closed by now

"Whenever people talk glibly of a need to achieve educational "excellence," I think of what an improvement it would be if our public schools could just achieve mediocrity."  ~  Thomas Sowell

Toledo Public School's Pickett Academy has been in
academic emergency or failing for more than a decade.
I recently came across this quote and thought it was perfect to explain what is going on at Pickett Academy, formerly known as Pickett Elementary, in Toledo, Ohio.

But it's also a good quote to explain what's going on in Ohio in general as the legislature considers new rules for charter schools.

Let's start with Pickett.

Pickett used to be kindergarten through sixth grade, but was recently changed, as part of an overall restructuring of the Toledo Public Schools. It now goes to eighth grade.

For more than 12 years, Pickett has been failing. It was in academic emergency under the old state grading system and has had a failing grade since the new school report cards have been issued.

In 2011-12, the school met none of the performance indicators and did not meet the "adequate yearly progress" indicator.

In 2012-13, under the new letter grades, the school received a D on its Performance Index (which measures the test results of every student) and an F on Indicators Met (which tells how many students passed the state tests at a minimum level).

In order to "meet" an indicator, at least 75% of students must pass the test.

The school met zero - none - of the 14 indicators during the 2012-13 school year.

It also scored an F for Gap Closing, which tells if every student is succeeding regardless of income, race, culture or disability. The state set an Annual Measurable Objective of 83.4% in math and 78.5% in reading. Pickett's overall score in reading was 53.3% and was 36.4% in math.

So what happened in the 2013-14 school year?  More of the same.

Another D on the Performance Index. Another F on Indicators Met with, again, none of the 14 indicators achieved. And another F in Gap Closing.

You would think, with scores and grades like these over more than a decade, that students who would attend Pickett would be taking advantage of the Ohio EdChoice Scholarship.

The EdChoice Scholarships give options to kids who are, or would be attending, an underperforming school.  Parents can use the scholarship to send their child to participating private schools.

So how many students who would have been stuck in this particular failing school have opted for a better education?

That's a good question. According to a spokesman at the Ohio Department of Education, data on the number of EdChoice Scholarships issued by underperforming school is available. As soon as they email the information, it will be included in this blog post.

Regardless of the number of students leaving, it is certain that not all students at Pickett are doing poorly, just that a vast majority of them are.

Which brings us back to the quote - and the Ohio General Assembly.

There are a lot of people up in arms about the performance of charter schools - which are also public schools - especially after a pretty negative report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Fordham was the first non-profit agency to be approved by the Ohio Department of Education as a sponsor of community schools. Fordham's report, released in December, said that "too often Ohio's charters have produced mediocre results" and that, on average, charter school students "make less academic progress than their district counterparts."

Fordham made several recommendations for improvement and some are included in House Bill 2 and as part of Gov. John Kasich's budget recommendations.

Certainly, poorly performing schools should not be allowed to continue to crank out poorly educated students. And an examination of public charter schools is not only valid, but necessary.  Parents need this information - and information on traditional public schools - so they can make good decisions for their children and find a school that best fits them.

But among all the angst and hand-wringing over charter schools that don't do well after three years, a lot of politicians, teachers unions, special interest groups and lobbyists are ignoring schools like Pickett that have been failing students for more than a decade.

In fact, if Pickett had been held to the same standard as existing charter schools, it would have closed quite some time ago.

For instance, in the 2013-14 school year, charter schools serving up to third grade would automatically be closed if, for two of the last three years, the school had been in Academic Emergency. While Pickett now serves up to eighth grade, it's been in Academic Emergency for over a decade.

The problem isn't that so many kids are stuck in failing schools without options, or that charter schools aren't doing as well as other public schools, or that parents cannot afford a private school education - though all these are, indeed, problems parents and communities face.

The bigger problem is that the various school options are not held to similar, much less the same, standards.

According to a December 2011 report from the Center for Education Reform, between 1997 and 2011, nearly 100 (99 to be exact) charters were closed for failing to meet their obligations. A January 12 Columbus Dispatch article noted that closings are now over 150.

There are 233 schools on the current List of Designated Public Schools, the schools that are underperforming and have been failing for at least two of the last three years.  Students who attend, or would be slated to attend, those schools are the ones eligible for EdChoice Scholarships.

Interestingly, the List has a "Closing" column, which identifies schools that are in the process of being closed.

Guess how many of those 233 failing schools are closing.


THAT is the problem. Traditional public schools which are failing students are allowed to remain open while the other public education option - charter schools - must close when they fail.

Now, if the traditional public schools weren't failing overall, or just failing to meet the needs of specific students, there wouldn't been a "need" for other options, though there would still exist a "want."

No school can be all things for all students, which is why school choice is so important to parents and students.

But if we're not going to open the doors so wide that ALL students can have a choice, then the least we can do is ensure that traditional public schools are treated the same as charter public schools and close down the ones that are continually failing to meet even the most basic of standards - like Pickett.

After all - it's "for the children."

Monday, January 26, 2015

National School Choice Week 2015

It's National School Choice Week - a week dedicated to celebrating options students have for an education.

Lest you think this is all about charters, private schools or home-schooling, please remember that charter schools in Ohio are public schools and that choosing to send a child to a traditional public school is still a choice that many parents make.

There's nothing wrong with any of the choice options available to parents these days and since it's supposed to be "for the children," what would make more sense than to allow each child to have the education that best suits them?

That's what school choice is all about:  finding the best fit for a child, regardless of what that fit might be.

Maybe some day we can let actually let the public dollars spent on a child for their education follow the child.

Imagine if K-12 school funding worked more like public funding of higher education - where a grant amount was determined based on a family's financial information and then the children could use that designated amount at any college or university that accepted them.

Under such a scenario, elementary and high schools would compete for students, offering a variety of tracks mirroring the interest of the kids while still ensuring that state minimum requirements were achieved.

Arizona did something like this with their Education Empowerment Scholarship Accounts and it's working well enough that other states could easily learn from them how to duplicate their success.

The state deposits educational funds directly into an account controlled by the parent. The parents can choose how to spend the funds using a type of debit card that is coded to allow its usage only for pre-approved expenses.
Parents can use it for tuition at any school, to pay for college or university courses while their child is still in high school, for online education, certified tutors, testing preparation like for SATs, or even a la carte public school courses (foreign languages, for example). They also have the choice to not spend it and put it toward a future college education. Anything not used in a year is allowed to accumulate.
Think about how food stamp EBT cards work and you'll have a good understanding about how the Arizona system works, except it's education items that are being purchased rather than food.
This is just one example of the many innovative ways parents, politicians and policy-makers are looking at providing a variety of educational opportunities for children today.

So celebrate your school choice options and special congrats to our state of Ohio which leads the nation in education scholarship options!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Who is responsible for your health?

This ad is from the CDC which is no longer
just the Centers for Disease Control,but is
now the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.
Forgive me for getting this wrong, but I always thought I - and I alone - was responsible for my health.

Sure, genetics play a role, but whether I was overweight or underweight , ate junk food or fruits and vegetables, exercised or not ... all that was on me.

Apparently I'm wrong.  Well, at least according to today's lead editorial in The Blade.

Yes, they do say our individual health is partially on us and the decisions we make, but they also say:

"The report notes that Ohio ranks near the top in the percentage of its adults who smoke, and of children exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes. Such things are as much a matter of individual responsibility, or its absence, as of inadequate public policy.
Really?  Inadequate public policy is to blame if you or I smoke?

Who DOESN'T know that smoking is bad for you?

In fact, people who do smoke, do so in spite of the fact that they know it's bad for them and for anyone who lives in their smoke-filled house.

How can inadequate public policy be to blame for that?

They even write:

"But it isn't just the responsibility of government to make Ohioans healthier and more productive."

Hmm... I guess I missed that responsibility in the U.S. Constitution as well as the state constitution.

For the record, I don't smoke - never have.  Neither has my husband. My sister does, but she doesn't smoke in my house and has never asked to do so.  Most smokers are considerate in that respect.

But no amount of government spending is going to make her stop. In fact, I doubt that anyone has decided to stop smoking because government spent money on an advertisement bemoaning the ill effects of the practice.

People stop smoking when THEY want to. They are the ones who must make the choice, which means it is entirely an individual responsibility and action.

The primary reason for the editorial is to call for "greater public investment" - that means spending - arguing that the more government spends on preventive care, the less it should end up spending on actual, more expensive, care as a result of bad habits.

You see, the 'logic' is that if government spends more money up front telling people how to be healthy, they'll have to spend less treating these people when they end up with costly diseases like cancer, heart disease, etc...

But first the people have to actually head the direction from the government to lead healthier lives - and that certainly isn't the case, at least, not for the majority of people.

There's an easy solution to the state spending so much money on actual care of illnesses that are preventable:  Don't.

What if the government warned people ahead of time that if they get cancer from smoking none of their health bills will be covered?  In fact, what if the government said that the cost of any illness or disease that was the result of self-inflicted activity wouldn't be covered?

Would people make better decisions knowing they'd be responsible for all the costs associated with bad habits, or that they might have to go without treatment if they couldn't afford it?

It's an interesting question and one that too few stop to consider.

But the government is all too happy to pay because, in doing so, they develop justification for telling you how to live. It is the 'logic' they use for controlling your life:  We're going to end of paying for your health care so we have the authority to tell you how to keep yourself healthy so we don't have to pay so much.

Oh, they might not say so in so many words, the bottom line is control - of your eating habits, exercise regimen and decisions.

Just look at Michele Obama's Healthy Hunger-Free Act which, as of a year ago, had 1 million kids leaving the school lunch line.

It doesn't stop.

And sadly, too many editorials are all to happy to jump on the bandwagon and advocate for even more government involvement in our daily lives, because (clearly) they know what is best and its for our own good.

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