Every parent has the right to educate their children in way that meets their kids’ needs and accords with their values and beliefs. Don’t just take my word for it: The U.S.
Every parent has the right to educate their children in way that meets their kids’ needs and accords with their values and beliefs. Don’t just take my word for it: The U.S. Supreme Courtin 1925, “Those who nurture him [the child] and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Congress in 1979 that “parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children.”
Despite these lofty statements, the ability of parents to fully exercise that cherished right and weighty responsibility has long been thwarted by government policy. Most notably, school finance policies strongly encourage parents to enroll their children in public schools, even if that isn’t their first choice. Under traditional funding arrangements, parents pay extra—on top of their taxes—to access other alternatives, whether private schools or homeschooling. Unfortunately, most families cannot bear those costs.
To their credit, Ohio lawmakers have removed some of those financial barriers. Thanks to their work, approximatelyof Ohio students are now eligible for private-school scholarships, including all children from low-income households. But what about the other half? Thousands of parents still have to “double pay” for education—tuition plus taxes—should they prefer a private school. Then, there is the large and number of parents who are or teaming up with others to create . Apart from a small , nothing else is done to support that form of education.
To ensure that all Ohio parents have access to their preferred educational option, State Representatives Riordan McLain and Marilyn John last week unveiled “backpack funding” legislation. Supported by the Center for Christian Virtue, the bill () would offer state funding for every private school and homeschooling parent. Those dollars would go into “backpacks” that travel with children to their school of choice. Many have championed this concept, as it treats all educational alternatives as equals—dollars flow to any type of school, regardless of sector—and it ensures that funds dedicated to kids’ education actually reach their intended destination.
What HB 290 does
How would the McLain-John proposal work? It would do the following:
Support universal private-school choice by creating an ESA program that is open to all. As noted above, Ohio has long offered private-school scholarships (a.k.a., vouchers)—but only to students who meet certain eligibility criteria.is restricted to low-income students and children assigned to low-performing schools, while the is limited to those who live in that city.
HB 290 would eliminate both of these programs. In their stead, it would create an educational savings account (ESA) program that any Ohio parent—no matter their income or residence—can apply for. The funds in these accounts could be used to cover private-school tuition, and should any dollars remain, parents could use them for other educational purposes. The amount deposited into an ESA would be equal to the current value of EdChoice and Cleveland scholarships—$5,500 for grades K–8 and $7,500 for grades 9–12—so the transition from a voucher to ESA model should be seamless for current voucher recipients. Akin to current EdChoice, HB 290 prohibits private schools from charging tuition above the ESA amount if a family has an income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Families above that threshold could be asked to cover the difference between the tuition and ESA amount.
Note that HB 290 would keep intact Ohio’s scholarship programs for students with disabilities—and . However, parents participating in those programs would still be eligible to apply for an ESA that further supplements their children’s learning needs.
Support homeschooling by allowing such parents to tap ESA funds. The proposal would allow homeschooling parents to apply for an ESA of the same amount that would cover curriculum and materials, as well as pay for tutoring needs and extracurricular fees. The ESA could also be used to pay tuition at, which some a form of homeschooling. The upshot: The proposal would reverse longstanding policy that has denied public funding to these parents, even as they labor to educate their own children. Bear in mind that participating in the ESA would be voluntary—no parent would be compelled to apply, nor any school be required to accept these funds. That’s important, as some parents and nonpublic schools may not want to subject themselves to the rules discussed next.
Require the Treasurer of State to administer and oversee the new program. HB 290 would shift the oversight of private-school choice programs from the Ohio Department of Education to the Treasurer of State (ToS). The reasoning isn’t exactly clear, but it might make better sense for the ToS to administer what could become tens of thousands of individual ESAs. Some of the key roles ToS would play under HB 290 include: (1) accepting applications from parents and schools to participate in the program; (2) overseeing ESA expenditures to ensure they adhere to the spending purposes outlined in law; and (3) determining penalties for noncompliance or misuse of funds. The ToS would also be responsible for publishing aggregated test results of grade 1–8 private-school students who would be required to take a norm-referenced exam every two years in reading, math, and history, along with the results of high school students taking state exams or alternative tests. Finally, HB 290 would maintain current law regarding private school adherence toand (e.g., district notification and annual assessment, though their results wouldn’t be published under HB 290).
Maintain the current funding model for Ohio’s public schools. The legislation proposes no revisions to the funding system for school districts and public charter or STEM schools. The bill also leaves local funding policies untouched. Those tax dollars would still be excluded from children’s backpacks when they attend charters, STEMs, and private schools or participate in homeschooling. Students enrolling in public schools wouldn’t be eligible for ESAs—their educations would be subsidized through the existing funding model—but their parents could of course apply for an ESA that allows for a transfer to private schools or homeschooling.
Can the bill be improved?
The overall idea behind HB 290 is right on the money. Structurally, shifting to a single ESA program could be more parent friendly than asking them to navigate multiple voucher programs, and the savings account structure could encourage private schools to keep their tuitions low. But there are a few ways that the bill could be improved to boost its chances of passing—and increase the likelihood that the program will succeed and benefit kids over the long-haul.
- Fiscal impacts. As currently written, HB 290 would make all tuition-paying private school students and homeschoolers immediately eligible for an ESA. There are roughly 150,000 such students in Ohio, so lawmakers are looking at an almost $1 billion per year price tag to fund the plan. That’s not pocket change, especially as they’re already facing challenges funding Ohio’s . One way to ease fiscal impacts is to phase in newly eligible private-school and homeschooling students, starting with a grade level or two each year. While that would withhold dollars from some students in the short run, ramping up the program in this way would make the proposal more fiscally manageable.
- Anti-fraud measures. Like other programs, the ESA could unfortunately fall prey to abuse. HB 290 recognizes that threat but contains few specifics about how the ToS would actually oversee the program. Instead, the bill opts to give the agency broad discretion to write rules and guidelines. Lawmakers could strengthen the bill by enumerating various anti-abuse provisions—for instance, by directing the ToS to conduct random audits of accounts, creating a fraud hotline, and specifying penalties for abuse.
- Transparency around student learning. The ESA program is taxpayer funded, and the public deserves information about whether those dollars are being used to drive student achievement. To its credit, HB 290 requires assessment of private school students. But it could be stronger in a few ways. First off, instead of testing students in grades 1–8 tests biennially, private schools should be required to assess annually. Every year matters for students, and annual testing would better allow for calculations of student growth. Speaking of growth, legislators should also consider ensuring that private schools’ average learning gains (or losses) on norm-referenced tests are calculated and made public. This would give parents a better sense of private-school quality than simply publishing raw test scores that may not be comparable across different tests and reflect pupil demographics. Last, in the realm of assessment, homeschooling students’ test results should be published in the aggregate as well. Those results could help dispel critics’ worries about student learning in such an environment and ensure public transparency for those funds.
As has been recognized for generations, parents have the primary responsibility for educating their children. But for too long, policymakers at all levels of government have pushed their needs and concerns to the side. The McLain-John proposal puts Ohio parents firmly back in control. Most families will undoubtedly continue to select public schools. Yet for those longing for something different, this bill gives them the resources to pursue innovative solutions, such as learning pods and microschools, as well as more traditional private school and homeschooling alternatives. All options should be open to parents, and this bill would deliver just that.
Between the, , and new legislative proposals, it’s been a busy year for education policy in Ohio. With so much happening, the question of how the state is spending its federal Covid-19 relief dollars has fallen by the wayside.
That’s partly because there’s so much money to keep track of. The federal government has sent three rounds of funding to states, which in Ohio adds up to around $7 billion dollars for K–12 education. Most of these dollars flow directly to Ohio schools, but states are permitted toof the funds for state-led efforts that, among other things, address learning loss.
The recently passedincludes an example of one such activity. It earmarks a total of $500,000 from the federal relief funds to create the Career Promise Academy Summer Demonstration Pilot Program (CPA). This program is designed to target rising ninth graders who are at risk of not graduating and to provide them with intensive literacy instruction, internship or mentorship experiences, and instruction in academic and life skills as well as financial literacy. Only districts that have persistently low state report card ratings (but are not subject to an academic distress commission) are eligible to apply. Two districts will be awarded grants totaling $250,000, one per summer. An emergency provision made initial funding available for the summers of 2021 and 2022, but the budget . That made the summer 2021 application deadline an extremely tight turnaround, and that’s likely why only one district—Dayton City Schools—applied. (It’s too soon to know how their pilot went, but we’re keeping our eyes peeled for more information.)
With more time to prepare an application and someon the books, hopefully the number of districts applying for CPA will increase during the summer of 2022. But even if interest remains low, that doesn’t mean policymakers should shift their attention elsewhere. There are several aspects of the CPA pilot that could be transplanted into other potential state-led initiatives funded through federal relief dollars.
For instance, consider the pilot’s focus on ninth grade. The only students eligible to participate are rising ninth graders who are “at risk of not qualifying for a high school diploma based on the student’s scores on state ELA and math assessments administered in eighth grade and other academic or social-emotional factors.” Targeting rising freshman might seem like a random decision, but it’s not.show that while the ninth grade often has the highest enrollments in high schools, it also boasts the lowest grade point average, the most missed classes, the majority of failing grades, and more misbehavior referrals than any other high school grade level. These issues not only impact the remainder of a student’s K–12 education, they can also influence access to and success in college and the workforce. Teachers and researchers have known that ninth grade is a make-or-break year for many students. There’s , and a in Chicago Public Schools aimed at improving the academic performance of ninth graders .
Focusing on ninth graders in a single pilot program won’t have such a huge effect in Ohio. But policymakers could use the CPA pilot as a jumping off point for creating and investing in more ninth grade initiatives. For example, an early warning system like the one used in Chicago could identify ninth graders who are behind on credits or have earned at least one F in a core academic course, are chronically absent, or have a high number of suspensions. Schools could notify families that these students are off track, and districts could use this information to provide students with additional support. Ohio already has aon the books that requires schools to do many of these things. Providing federal funds to zero in on ninth graders would be a wise investment.
Another aspect of the CPA pilot that shows considerable promise is its inclusion of work-based learning. As part of their application for the CPA pilot, districts must include an agreement with theirto identify internship and mentoring experiences for students. Considering the CPA pilot is so small—only 75 students in one district can participate each summer—it’s understandable that lawmakers focused only on internships. But over the next few years, the state could use federal relief dollars to expand access to a broad set of work-based learning options that would be available during the summer months. These programs would help students master academic, technical, and professional skills and gain valuable experience. They could also put young adults on the path toward earning an that can be used as a and a stepping stone into a well-paying career field.
The CPA pilot is tiny. By law, it’s only accessible to a total of 150 students. As is the case with other pilot programs, that’s a feature not a bug. When trying something new, it’s usually best to start small. But the key aspects of the CPA pilot—its focus on ninth graders and its connection to work-based learning—are research backed initiatives that are, or have been, part of Ohio’s educational system. Going forward, state officials and policymakers would be wise to spend at least some of Ohio’s federal relief funds on programs that emphasize these same features.
Hot-button education topics such as masking, vaccines, and critical race theory have dominated headlines this fall. But lost in the shuffle are a few notable items that have also made news—but barely—and have significant implications for Ohio policymakers. To be sure, some are related to the pandemic and its effects on American life, but you may have missed them in the larger row. Without further ado, here’s some musings on four of these issues.
Should Ohio shift school board elections to being “on-cycle”?
It’s no secret that school boards are taking heat for their decisions on controversial matters. According to, parent groups and conservatives have organized to run candidates more attuned to their concerns. Those efforts are well within their rights, as school board members are elected by local citizens. But why are these races being held this fall? The reason, of course, is that school board elections in Ohio and many are “off cycle.” That is to say, they’re held in odd-numbered years when national and statewide elections aren’t on the ballot. Because of that timing, is usually abysmal. In a recent , Worthington City Schools board member Charlie Wilson explained that—this year—off-cycle elections could advantage “conservative insurgents,” since they are likely supported by the most motivated voters. His analysis is accurate. Holding low turnout, off-cycle board elections favor well-organized but narrow interest groups. In most years, tend to have disproportionate influence. This year, it’ll probably be other groups. If we want to engage the broader community in education decisions, on-cycle board elections are the way to go. So will he and others start advocating for a legislative change to hold board elections on-cycle as we’ve ? Let’s hope so.
Should Ohio remove an occupational barrier to substitute teaching?
In early October, the General Assembly passed, legislation that focuses largely on financial literacy. Included are emergency provisions that allow Ohio schools—public or private—to hire substitute teachers without a bachelor’s degree. The waiver applies only to 2020–21. While the temporary reprieve is welcome in the face of , legislators should consider permanently removing this . That’s not to diminish the importance of good substitute teachers. But requiring a four-year degree seems a bit much for what might be part-time or unpredictable work that won’t attract many college-educated people. Remember, just of adult Ohioans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, so right out of the gate, this occupational requirement prevents schools from hiring the vast majority of Ohioans for the job. And recall, too, that schools may hire without four-year degrees. Classrooms can’t go unattended, and schools shouldn’t be left to scramble for coverage due to onerous requirements.
Should schools be required to provide specific services to gifted students?
We at Fordham recently published a that “The state has no requirement that gifted children get anything beyond a letter in the mail.” True, true. Although Ohio require schools to identify children as gifted, it does not require schools to actually provide such students any special services. Lacking a mandate, many gifted students do not receive services from their schools. But what about the letter? The state does at least require schools to notify parents of gifted students when their children aren’t receiving any gifted services. Parents should be livid if they receive this letter, not only at their school for refusing to offer gifted services, but at their state lawmakers for allowing it to happen. So here’s an idea: Every time a parent gets a “no services” letter, they should send their legislators a letter asking them to support mandatory gifted services or policies that open other educational options (state scholarships or would do the trick). That type of grassroots effort might just get lawmakers’ attention.on the long-term outcomes of Ohio’s high-achieving third graders. The results were disappointing on many fronts, including lackluster AP and ACT exam participation and college enrollments, especially for poor, Black, and Hispanic students. What happened? It’s hard to pinpoint any one factor, but many “lost Einsteins” likely went adrift because their schools didn’t appropriately challenge or accelerate them. Covering the report, Anna Staver of the Columbus Dispatch astutely
Should Ohio stop defaulting teachers into its pension plan?
Inflation is making, as prices have climbed over the past year. Persistently high inflation rates are bad news for most American households, but they could hit retired Ohio teachers especially hard. Why? Facing massive unfunded pension liabilities, the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) in 2017 to eliminate cost-of-living-adjustments for retirees. That’s right. Pensioners won’t see any bump in benefits that help them cover the higher costs. Making matters worse, retired Ohio teachers cannot participate in Social Security, a program that does adjust benefits for inflation—and will do so to the tune of . To address this problem, STRS could certainly restore COLAs for pensioners (there’s a ), but that approach would only add to the system’s liabilities. The long-term solution is to phase out the pension program by closing it to new teachers, as a number of have done, and instead provide benefits through a 401(k)-style or hybrid model. Until that happens, lawmakers could at least nudge incoming teachers towards the state’s better away from the underfunded pension plan.
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If you have read this far, you’d realize that my answers to these questions are all yeses. Who’s willing to help our lawmakers get to yes as well?
In 2012, Governor Kasich Although implementation of the plan , the city’s schools have made over the last decade or so.that allowed the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) to implement a city-wide education turnaround effort known as the Cleveland Plan.
But a lot has changed since 2012, both in education and society at large. To keep Cleveland moving in the right direction, city and school leaders need an updated plan to guide their work over the next several years. To meet that need, the(CTA) recently released a . The city’s primary education goals—referred to as “pillars” in keeping with the CTA’s use of a house analogy—make up the bulk of the refreshed plan. Here’s an in-depth look at how each pillar compares to the goals identified in the .
Pillar One: Grow the number of students attending high-quality public district and public charter schools in every neighborhood in Cleveland.
The primary difference between this goal and the one identified in the original plan is that the focus has shifted from schools to kids. In the original plan, city leaders aimed to grow the number of high-performing district and charter schools. The refreshed plan, however, focuses on growing the number of students who attend these schools rather than increasing the number of schools themselves. The original plan also called for the city to close or replace failing schools, and CMSD shuttered ten schools between 2012 and 2020. The refreshed plan, however, includes no mention of school closures going forward. That’s not surprising, given the charged debate around the practice. It also doesn’t mean the district can’t or won’t close schools in the future. The plan notes that currently there are too many seats for the number of school-age children in Cleveland, and it promises to “use school quality data to inform families of the opportunity to enroll in unfilled seats at high-quality schools.” It’s reasonable to assume that if they succeed in doing so, the emptied out lower-performing schools may need to be shuttered. And while it might disappoint accountability hawks not to have performance-related school closure explicitly on the table—especially given theindicating that students displaced by closures make academic gains—it’s understandable that a district that’s been identified as would want to focus on improving schools rather than closing them.
Pillar Two: Ensure all school leaders are empowered with the resources, supports, and authority necessary to equitably meet the needs of their school community.
The original Cleveland Plan jumpstarted a transition to more school-level autonomy by calling for the district’s central office to transfer much of its authority to schools. That included control over resources, a move that was accomplished through the implementation of a new. This new formula weighted funding based on student characteristics, thereby driving more dollars to high-need students, and also gave the majority of spending power to school leaders. For the last several years, principals in Cleveland have designed customized budget plans based on their schools’ needs and academic goals. The refreshed plan won’t change that—it notes that school leaders will retain “the ability and financial resources to structure leadership, budgets, staffing, scheduling, and curriculum in support of their school’s specific model.” The district also intends to offer increased support to school leaders to help with innovation, technology, and data-driven decision-making.
Pillar Three: Invest and phase-in innovative programs and equitable best practices across all public district and public charter schools to help students thrive from birth through college and career.
There’s not much of a shift here between the old and new plans, as they both aim to invest and phase-in innovative programs. It’s mostly just a change in terminology. The original plan references “high-leverage system reforms across all schools” and identifies initiatives such as high-quality preschool, college and workforce readiness, talent recruitment, and investments in technology. The refreshed plan also mentions all of these strategies—it just calls them “equitable best practices” instead. It also adds a few more to the mix, such as expanding the availability of affordable and high-quality before-school, afterschool, and summer programs.
Pillar Four: Through the CTA, ensure fidelity to and equitable community engagement with this plan for all public district and public charter schools.
In the original plan, the primary purpose of the CTA was to “ensure accountability for all public schools in the city.” The refreshed plan, on the other hand, seems to shift the CTA’s primary purpose to ensuring plan fidelity and community engagement. To some, that might seem like a move away from accountability. But that’s not necessarily the case. The refreshed plan lists six strategies under this pillar, and the first is to “monitor and publish and widely distribute an annual report on the quality of all of Cleveland’s schools.” The CTA hasfor years, and the new plan won’t change that. In fact, when identifying student achievement and progress as a quality indicator, the plan lists kindergarten readiness, literacy and math in grades PreK–8, ninth grade completion, high school graduation rates, preparation for life after high school, and progress in skill-based domains such as content reasoning or social-emotional learning as measures that will be used to determine progress. It’s also important to remember that the CTA’s annual report can’t and won’t replace , which annually measure metrics like student achievement and growth and allow for comparisons between buildings, districts, and historical averages. Between state report cards and the CTA’s annual reports, Cleveland residents and families should have a trove of data to assist in holding their schools accountable.
Pillar Five: Embed organizational and educational equity principles and activities that are replicable and measurable for all public district and public charter schools in the city.
The refreshed plan places a ton of emphasis on equity. Adding this goal—which wasn’t part of the original plan—is just another example of that. It includes four strategies: aligning education practices with the plan’s definition of equity, offering technical assistance and professional development to school leaders, identifying and expanding community engagement programs that serve at-risk or historically marginalized students, and identifying and expanding teaching and learning models that reduce, eliminate, and prevent discrimination.
As has always been the case, the success of this refreshed Cleveland Plan will depend on implementation. Advocates will need to keep a close eye on the progress benchmarks being identified by the CTA in a separate process, and families and taxpayers should keep a close eye on their schools. But Cleveland has shown over the last several years that many of its leaders and educators are taking reform efforts seriously, and better student outcomes are proof that the city’s schools are improving. Hopefully this new and updated plan will keep Cleveland on the right path.
As supporters celebrate and opponents dissect the Year of School Choice, a timely new report tries to make sense of the way parents value, assess, and act upon available information for making education choices. The study, by Shira Alicia Korn Haderlein of the University of Southern California, is said to be a new twist on previous single-question opinion surveys, but ultimately seems to be more of the same. While it likely illustrates some true aspects of parental preferences in education, it’s limited by the fact that no participants were involved in evaluating real schools or making actual choices for their kids.
Participants were recruited via Amazon’s MTurk Worker platform, which pays individuals across the globe to complete tasks such as the survey used in this study. The adjunct CloudResarch portal filtered respondents based on “quality.” In all, 1,277 individuals took the online survey in two waves during June 2021. Wave 1 comprised 859 respondents who resided in the U.S. and reported being parents. Wave 2 comprised an additional 368 respondents who met the Wave 1 criteria and also identified as Black or Hispanic. In a pre-survey process using other respondents, Korn Haderlein narrowed a list of thirty-three school attributes possibly related to parental choice down to the most popular six: academic achievement status, academic achievement growth, quality of school leadership, graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, and racial demographics of the student body. It is important to note that some big stuff—class size, extracurriculars, social-emotional-learning programming—didn’t make the cut. Additionally, while all respondents were parents, the specific ages of their children were not available. Thus, a respondent could rank “graduation rate” low on their list, not because it’s unimportant, but because their child was only in fifth grade. The final group of respondents was also more female and more educated than the general population.
The twist here is the three-step survey design. Respondents were first asked to rank the importance of the six school attributes, as is typical for a one-step survey of preferences. They then reviewed a set of twenty hypothetical school report cards in which various levels of the six attributes were randomly mixed. (For example, high academic achievement, decreasing growth, below average chronic absenteeism, an even composition of White and non-White students, etc.) Respondents were asked to assess school quality based on that report card on a seven-point Likert scale. Finally, they were given two hypothetical schools with randomly-assigned levels of the six attributes, arranged for maximum contrast, and asked to which of the schools they would send their child.
On average, respondents ranked academic achievement as the most important attribute for them, followed by graduation rate, achievement growth, school leadership, demographic composition, and absenteeism rate. School leadership and demographic composition each had a small group of adherents who ranked it most important but majorities ranked those last. Black and Hispanic respondents ranked chronic absenteeism as more important to them than did their White peers.
As for evaluating school quality—no real surprise here—all attributes mattered. The schools with the overall most positive attribute mixes were deemed by respondents to be the highest-quality schools. Consistent with the ranking data, achievement status was the most impactful predictor of parents’ school quality perceptions. The higher a school’s hypothetical achievement, the higher its quality was deemed to be. Chronic absenteeism brought up the rear in that regard. Student demographics was the only attribute that varied across racial groups, with Black and Hispanic parents rating diverse schools of higher quality than those with mostly White or with mostly non-White students. White parents, by contrast, assigned lower quality ratings to schools with mostly non-White students.
In terms of choosing between two hypothetical schools, the overall preference was to enroll their child in whichever school had the best overall attribute mix. However, analysis indicated that achievement growth was more influential than achievement status in determining final choice, and that chronic absenteeism rate mattered less in the final choice than its previous rankings by respondents would have indicated. White parents were somewhat more likely to choose more diverse schools than all-White schools but less likely to choose schools which were majority non-White. Black and Hispanic parents were more likely to choose diverse schools over both schools with mostly non-White and mostly-White students.
Korn Haderlein suggests that her results are more reliable than the results of one-step preference surveys, and more reliable than revealed preferences via actual choices, which suffer from a host of confounding variables and less-than-perfect informational access. She asserts that parents here “have ample information and unlimited schooling options” within the bounds of this survey due to its more meticulous design. Even if true, that is not the case in the real world. While it is heartening to read that academic achievement likely ranks at or near the top of every parent’s list when evaluating the best possible fit for their child, making real school choices involves distance, non-academic concerns, and other tradeoffs far more difficult to tease out through even the most involved survey design.
SOURCE: Shira Alicia Korn Haderlein, “How Do Parents Evaluate and Select Schools? Evidence From a Survey Experiment,” American Educational Research Journal (September 2021).