As the excitement of a new year dwindles and Ohioans settle back into their familiar routines, policymakers and advocates are gearing up for yet another budget season. Governor DeWine is scheduled to release his proposed biennial state operating budget in just a few short weeks, and by June, a host of new legislative provisions will likely become law. Here’s a look at three education issues that deserve a lot of love and attention in the budget.
1. Early literacy
National and state-level data indicate that pandemic-related disruptions have had a negative impact on student learning. The good news is that achievement has rebounded in elementary and middle school English language arts. The bad news is that 208 of the state’s 607 districts, roughly one-third, earned only one or two stars out of five on the early literacy component of state report cards. Ample data show that reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a “make-or-break” benchmark for kids. For the tens of thousands of students attending these struggling schools, a difficult road lies ahead unless state and local leaders step up their efforts.
Fordham outlined several ways that state lawmakers could do so in a policy brief published last fall. One idea is to create a state reimbursement program for schools that purchase high-quality instructional materials. Such a program was implemented with great success in Louisiana, and could be fruitful here, as well. Ohio lawmakers could also take cues from Mississippi, which has significantly improved its early literacy outcomes. One of their key strategies was investing in literacy coaches, who provide varying levels of support to schools based on their needs. Ohio legislators could follow suit by authorizing the Ohio Department of Education to hire, train, and deploy reading coaches to districts with two consecutive years of low ratings on the early literacy component of state report cards.
2. Education-to-workforce pathways
Results from nationally representative surveys indicate that a large majority of teenagers wish their high schools provided more information about the post-secondary options available to them. Seventy-four percent said it’s important to have a career in mind before they graduate, but only 39 percent reported taking classes or participating in programs that allowed them to explore careers. And although many of the jobs that teenagers report being interested in have career and technical education (CTE) pathways associated with them, only 20 percent of high schoolers believe that CTE could lead to the career they want. The upshot? Teenagers both need and want more information about education-to-workforce pathways, as well as more opportunities to access them.
Engagement with employers and higher education is equally important. Ohio already has a solid foundation thanks to state laws and grants aimed at funding collaboration between businesses, education and training providers, and community leaders. There are a few promising partnerships that already exist and are definitely worth celebrating. But there’s still a long way to go. To ensure that education-to-workforce pathways reach their full potential, Ohio needs more state-led programs and initiatives aimed at gaining buy-in from the business community and higher education institutions, as well as fostering collaboration with K–12 schools.
There are several ways Ohio lawmakers could address the needs of students and ratchet up their engagement with businesses and higher education:
- Increase industry engagement by offering additional incentives for employers to participate in career exploration and work-based learning opportunities for students. For instance, the Governor’s Workforce Board in Rhode Island oversees a Work Immersion program that helps employers train prospective workers through paid internships by reimbursing them at a rate of 50 or 75 percent for wages paid to eligible participants. And in Delaware, a collaboration between education, business, and government leaders has produced a statewide program that offers K–12 students the opportunity to complete a program of study aligned with an in-demand career.
- Link students’ K–12 and higher education records with workforce outcomes, such as wages, career fields, and unemployment records. This would help state leaders, educational institutions, and employers better understand gaps in student readiness and collaborate to create data-driven solutions.
- Collect and analyze high-quality data on industry-recognized credentials (IRCs), which have the potential to offer a plethora of benefits for high school students and employers alike. Right now, though, there is significant misalignment between the credentials employers demand and those that Ohio students actually earn. To fix this, state leaders need to identify which credentials are part of high-quality career pathways, which students have access to those pathways, and which credentials have the best return on investment.
- Establish a statewide informational campaign that focuses on reaching out to students and families and ensuring that they know about all the CTE options available to them.
- Require the Ohio Department of Education to review districts and schools to ensure that they’re following state law regarding career advising and taking advantage of the many resources available to them, including the state’s career advisory policy, career advising toolkits, career connections framework, career pathways, the OhioMeansJobs site, and in-demand jobs week.
3. Teacher shortages
Over the last few years, Ohio districts expressed growing concern over teachershortages. Although the pandemic has played a role in these staffing struggles, it’s important to recognize that they existed long before Covid. It’s also important to recognize that shortages don’t exist everywhere. A recent paper published by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform found that teacher staffing issues are “highly localized,” which makes it possible for teacher shortages and surpluses to exist simultaneously.
There are plenty of ways Ohio could fix its teacher pipeline issues. Fordham offered several ideas in another policy brief published last year. But to effectively address the most pressing problem—a lack of teachers in some districts, grade levels, and subject areas—state leaders need detailed and consistent data. And right now, they don’t have it. Ohio doesn’t collect and maintain statewide data on teacher vacancies in a single, easily accessible place, so it's difficult to pinpoint the size and scope of the problem and identify potential solutions.
Lawmakers could easily fix this issue in the budget. The best way to do so would be to take a page out of North Carolina’s book and require an annual report about the state of Ohio’s teaching profession. The report could include data on teacher vacancies, attrition, and mobility, all of which could be disaggregated by region, district, grade level, subject area, teacher experience level, and teacher demographics. Consistent access to such detailed data would allow researchers to track trends over time, and would help state and local leaders proactively identify problems and solutions.
For better or worse, Ohio does the bulk of its education policymaking through the biennial budget. The next few months will be chaotic and potentially controversial. But amidst all the hustle and bustle, there will be opportunities to get things done. In these moments, lawmakers would be wise to remember early literacy, education-to-workforce pathways, and teacher shortages.