It’s the new year, and that means football, resolutions, and predictions. Foreseeing the future, of course, is risky business—nothing is certain except death and taxes—but we can be pretty sure that the coming year will be a busy one for Ohio policymakers. After all, crafting the next state budget is on the docket for 2023, and as Statehouse insiders will tell you, that means lots of policy will get discussed. How exactly Ohio’s education debates will shake out is anyone’s guess. But here’s my best attempt at making five predictions of what will happen in the new year.
- School governance reform will cross the finish line. Late in 2022, state lawmakers worked in earnest to overhaul school governance. Led by the Senate, the reform proposals in Senate Bill 178 sought to clarify (and downsize) the role of the state board of education, strengthen accountability for the Ohio Department of Education via more direct oversight from the governor’s office, and create a high-profile leadership position tasked with carrying out career-tech initiatives. The bill won support from a number of school leaders, especially in the career-tech sector, as well as some education groups (including Fordham) and business-minded organizations. The proposal unfortunately stalled in the waning days of the 134th General Assembly. Despite the setback, governance reform remains badly needed in the Buckeye State. Ohio’s education system has been stuck in low gear for too long, held back by the convoluted structure of the state board of education that promotes clumsy implementation of key state initiatives and weakens leadership at the department of education. Lawmakers are rightly fed up with this incoherent governance model. My prediction: A serious school governance overhaul, much in line with Senate Bill 178, will pass in 2023.
- Ohio lawmakers will ratchet up school funding while reining in some aspects of the new funding formula. Ohio legislators seem poised to increase funding for K–12 schools in the next biennial budget (FY24 and FY25) in an effort, at least, to keep spending in line with inflation. But the main question on school funding will surround the state’s new funding formula and whether lawmakers will maintain the model. One area likely to face scrutiny is the formula’s base cost model, an extensive set of calculations based on salary data and staffing ratios that help determine districts’ funding allocations. The model overall calls for much higher state spending on K–12 education—so high that legislators came nowhere close to fully funding it in FY22 and FY23. While funding for education is very likely to rise, meeting the new formula’s full prescription remains a tough budgetary act. One option is to yet again partially fund the formula. That, however, is a dissatisfying way to fund schools and might even provoke litigation. Another approach is to work within the general structure of the new formula but try to rein in some of the features that result in escalated spending. Figuring out what those tweaks should be won’t be an easy task, but for a few starter ideas, legislators could look here for recommendations from our school funding policy brief.
- Lawmakers will begin to take a tougher line on school accountability. State policymakers put school accountability on pause for the 2019–20, 2020–21, and (for the most part) 2021–22 school years. The reason, of course, was the pandemic, as test data evaporated and more pressing concerns took priority. Now with the pandemic in our rearview mirror, the hiatus is over as schools are once again expected to focus on student academic learning. But it’s no secret that accountability policies haven’t always been popular in the statehouse. That sentiment is unlikely to change overnight, but there are forces that could push the pendulum in the other direction. One significant factor is the mass of data that show the pandemic’s toll on student learning. The recent NAEP data for Ohio, for example, reveal serious declines in math and reading scores, especially among low-income and Black and Hispanic students. Policymakers’ patience may wear thin if schools continue to make slow progress and these learning losses persist into 2023. Other factors that might push a stronger focus on academics—and accountability for higher achievement—include a continuing slide in college enrollments and college readiness rates and employers becoming increasingly concerned about finding employees with basic math and English skills. Last, with state funding increases on the horizon, some legislators may simply want stronger assurances that dollars are being used to increase student learning.
- Culture war debates will cool down a bit, but local schools will continue to grapple with widely divergent perspectives on education. Over at Education Next, Rick Hess and Ilana Ovental have a fascinating new article showing the dramatic rise and fall of various education topics, as covered in the media, over the past two decades. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, and teacher evaluations all had their time in the sun, but have since fallen off the radar. In their place, media coverage of critical race theory, gender issues, and protective masking have risen sharply over the past few years. If past is prologue, attention on these matters could wane over the next year. But even if interest slackens—and along with it, legislator attention—local schools are likely to continue to face a delicate balance in juggling vastly differing opinions, often split along partisan lines, about how to handle these subjects. Here’s hoping that school leaders will act wisely and be forthright with parents and community members as they navigate these waters.
- Ohio will have a universal private-school voucher program by year end. Over the past two decades, state legislators have gradually expanded eligibility for Ohio’s private-school voucher programs. Building on a pilot for Cleveland students, Ohio launched EdChoice in fall 2006, and it has unlocked private-school opportunities for students slated to attend low-performing schools. In 2013, legislators expanded voucher eligibility to low-income students entering kindergarten (and scaling up by one grade each year), regardless of their assigned school. Then in late 2020, Ohio lawmakers increased eligibility for the income-based voucher by raising the eligibility threshold from 200 to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Taken together, this broadening of eligibility has made about half of Ohio students eligible for a voucher today, and more than 75,000 students use one to attend a private school. Legislators in the last General Assembly introduced (though didn’t pass) two bills that would have moved Ohio to a “universal” private-school choice program that makes all children eligible for state support. There is a strong case, in my view, for Ohio to take this final step—following similar moves in Arizona and West Virginia. So my last prediction is that lawmakers will finish what they started more than two decades ago in Cleveland, and at last empower all Ohio parents to make the educational choice that is the best fit for their family and child.
There you have it, five predictions for the 2023. To stay posted on education issues such as these, subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, and bookmark our blog, the Ohio Gadfly Daily. It should be an exciting year in education policy, and we’ll see what happens by year’s end!