2019 was a busy legislative year in the Buckeye State.
2019 was ain the Buckeye State. Flying under the radar amidst all the hustle and bustle was , bipartisan legislation that passed this fall with overwhelming support. Known as the TechCred bill, HB 2 establishes guidelines for the TechCred program that was in the state budget. The overarching goal of the program is to help Ohioans earn industry-recognized, technology-focused credentials and to both current and potential employees. To accomplish this, the General Assembly allocated per year for two years to reimburse employers for bearing the cost of credential training for employees.
If it lives up to expectations, this program—and thein House Bill 2—could have a big impact. It could support Ohio businesses: It allows employers to develop both current and potential employees and should improve the business community’s pool of skilled workers. It could help job-seekers: Adding meaningful, technology-based credentials to their resumes should open doors for thousands of Ohioans. It could also improve the state’s economy: was established because Ohio has a steadily increasing gap between the percentage of jobs that require postsecondary education and the percentage of working-adults who have actually earned a degree or certificate. The deadline is , but this program should contribute to decreasing that gap.
Obviously, a program that provides public funding to businesses needs to have guardrails. Fortunately, TechCred includes a few important accountability measures.
First, onlyare eligible for reimbursement. They must be industry-recognized, able to be completed in no more than one year, and approved by the chancellor of higher education. They must also be technology-focused, which they “demonstrate the competencies necessary to succeed in an occupation that utilizes technology to develop, build, and deliver products and services.” They can include certificates—which require the completion of a training, course, or series of courses—or certification, which requires the passage of a standardized test. In December, an , bringing the total up to 379. These include credentials in the areas of business, healthcare, cybersecurity, manufacturing, and information technology. Importantly, the list does not include credentials that have shown by Ohio employers.
Second, participating in the program requires businesses to do. They must identify potential employees who would benefit, as well as the skills and credentials that would best fill their company’s needs. They are also for identifying and partnering with a credential provider. Universities, community colleges, technical centers, and private-training providers are all eligible as partners, but it is business leaders—not the state—that must reach out and establish a relationship.
Third, only certain businesses are able to receive funds. Once an employer has partnered with a provider, they must apply to be considered a program participant. There are eligibility criteria for both employers and employees. For instance, businesses must be Ohio registered employers, and employees—whether current or prospective—must be Ohio residents. The application, which can be, requires employers to submit information on their business, the employees who will undergo training, and the provider they’ve selected.
Fourth, businesses can only apply during specific application windows. The applications are reviewed competitively by the Developmental Services Agency. These are not first-come, first-serve funds.
Finally, there are several limits on the funding itself. Employers can only receive up to $2,000 per credential, with one reimbursement available per employee for each funding round. In total, businesses are limited to $30,000 per funding round. Reimbursement is also dependent on completion; employers must provide proof of credential completion in addition to an invoice of the costs incurred and documentation of the employee’s wage after they completed the credential. The law also prohibits employers from requiring current or prospective employees who receive a credential through this program to accept a position or continue working for their business.
While there are definitely a few hoops to jump through, they don’t seem to have deterred businesses at all. The first application window, whichin October, in the approval of 234 employers and 1,576 credentials. The was open through the end of January, so we don’t yet know how many more businesses have applied. But given the expanded credential list, as well as the of the , it’s safe to assume there will be plenty more earned credentials in Ohio’s future.
It’s too early to declare the TechCred program a success. But early signs are positive, and there’s plenty of untapped potential left. Kudos to Ohio lawmakers and leaders for making this program a reality.
High-quality academic offerings. Distance from home. Campus culture. Student safety and supports. Access to the arts, sports, and cultural opportunities. Price tag.
These are all things that my children and I researched as we have looked at colleges over the last year. Yet the categories were familiar, as these are the same concerns that fueled our school choice journey over the previous thirteen years.
Now that first journey is nearly over as we head for the next.
When my wife and I decided to have a child (little did we know that twins would result!) and to stay in Columbus while raising our family, we knew we’d have to be proactive and hands-on in regard to formal education. My parents had opted in the complaints about lack of funding, churn among building administrators, high-profile of test-rigging, whining about the “drain” of public money for , judgmental comments from our neighbors about our duty to “ ” no matter what, and a troubling on rigor and achievement (“all kids are successful, somehow, some way”), even in the district’s better-performing schools.to move out of the city, choosing a small rural school district as a better fit for my siblings and me. In 2001, Columbus City Schools didn’t look a heckuva lot better to me. They were getting low marks on school , there were constant
So we worked at it from start to finish, and that meant making changes whenever warranted. From preschool through twelfth grade, one of my kids attended four; the other, five. None was a traditional district school. We did our at every decision point—researching our options; talking to other parents (“Your kids are fine. They could do yoga all day and still ace the test.”); visiting schools, although our resident district made site visits very difficult to arrange; and attending multiple . (That helpful event was offered to families in but nowhere else in the city.) Transportation was a no matter where we went, as it has always been for many Ohio attempting to utilize school choice. We were seeking all the elements noted above, but academic rigor was always at the top of the list. These priorities required multiple school moves over the years—when a change in school leadership changed the academic emphasis, for example, or when opportunities for extracurricular activities were limited by school size or grade level. We even made the difficult decision to send the twins to two when one child’s needs gradually made an otherwise excellent school a bad fit.
Did it work? Was it all worth it?
Now that we’re looking at colleges and watching our children choose for themselves which institutions fit their aspirations, we believe our school choice journey was largely successful. At the least, our kids seem to have internalized the ways in which we researched and chose schools for them in the past, and are now applying those methods in their own way to the next phase of their education. They must now own the choice and the next journey.
Child-rearing in general seems like one of those puzzles that you can’t be sure is getting properly solved until you’re nearing the end. The moves seem right at the time; all the pieces fit in the moment. Often you can adjust on the fly when things seem to be off kilter. But “properly solved” doesn’t become clear until very far down the road.
We as parents are expected to do our best for our children throughout their lives. The process of researching and choosing a college is a time-honored tradition for high school seniors, counselors, teachers, and families—one that I am immensely pleased to be partaking in right now. But that process should start sooner. Here’s hoping that such efforts will become a vital part of the K–12 system, too. I feel that a child’s education journey should begin in the same way it ends: finding the best fit, with the help of a system designed to serve them, so that all children can become the highest and best versions of themselves. The smartest, most thoughtful, most confident versions ready to take on the world.
With thousands of Columbus students in need of a world-class education, it’s painful to see school district officials impeding the expansion efforts of a top-notch charter network by refusing to offer a vacant facility for sale or lease. If denying quality educational opportunities weren’t enough, the district is running afoul of, which requires districts to offer unused facilities to charter schools. The purpose of this provision is to make it feasible for public charter schools to access, at an affordable rate, classroom space that has already been paid for by taxpayers.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time that an Ohio district has attempted to circumvent this well-intended law. In 2011, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD)thirty closed buildings to charters by tearing some down, using others for storage, and classifying the rest with terms like “unusable.” In 2012, Cincinnati Public Schools before the Supreme Court of Ohio after attempting to prevent charter schools from obtaining their facilities. And in 2016, CMSD a vacant building rather than offer it to a charter school.
In 2017, things briefly looked a little brighter: The Columbus Board of Education allowed theto . Nearly three years later, though, we’re right back where we started. Columbus City Schools is now flouting state law by to sell one of its unused buildings.
To understand why this is such a big deal, let’s consider the players. On the one hand is(USN), a home-grown charter network that opened its first school in the fall of 2008. USN serves 871 students in four schools located in Columbus. (All four are sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, our sister organization.) One hundred percent of its students are economically disadvantaged, and the vast majority of each school’s population is students of color. USN is rightfully considered one of Ohio’s highest performing charter networks. On the most recent , one USN school earned an A , two earned B’s, and one earned a C. Three of its schools also earned A’s on , while the fourth didn’t receive a progress grade because it serves students in grades K–1. Each of USN’s schools outperformed the school district in terms of overall grades, , and progress.
On the other hand there’s Columbus City, thewith just over 50,000 students. Like USN, identify 100 percent of its students as economically disadvantaged and the majority of its students as minorities. But Columbus City has far less impressive academic results. It’s most recent overall grade is a D. of its 109 schools earned an overall C or above, which means approximately two-thirds of its schools earned D’s or F’s. Only twelve schools earned A’s on progress. Those results aren’t anomalies, either—the district earned an , the first year in which overall grades were assigned, and F’s in both achievement and progress in and .
Finally, there’s the building they’re fighting over.to the Dispatch, Monroe Middle School has “sat essentially untouched since it closed in June 2014,” and is characterized by boarded up broken windows, trash and dust, and profanities “etched in grime on its exterior walls.” USN founder and CEO Andy Boy told the Dispatch that his network has been trying to purchase Monroe for years. And legally, he should be able to. The is clear that any facility that has not been used for school operations for one year must be offered by districts to schools of choice for lease or purchase. (In this year’s budget, the legislature changed the unused period of time requiring a sale from two years to one). The law specifically gives preference to high performing charters, which USN is.
But Columbus City Schools won’t sell. District officials claim they aren’t breaking the law because the district “has plans” for the building. But the law doesn’t permit districts to withhold unused facilities because it has “plans” to use them sometime in the future. It says they must sell buildings that haven’t been used for “academic instruction or administration” for one year. And as the Dispatch points out, those supposed plans for Monroe were last mentioned way back in 2016, nearly four years ago. The building has sat vacant even longer than that; it was, meaning it has sat empty and unused far longer than the law allows.
It’s also worth pointing out that the district already has its hands full with other facilities issues. Back in 2018, Iabout how it was about whether to close or consolidate several buildings. A Facilities Task Force made up of community and business leaders that the buildings under consideration were “under-enrolled, underutilized, in poor condition, and unpopular with students.” Closing and consolidating these schools would have saved the district money and brought an additional infusion of cash. Based on the Dispatch’s description, the district clearly isn’t spending much keeping Monroe in good condition. But selling it would still be a financial boon. In fact, based on the most recent appraisal, the district could net over half a million dollars with the sale—money that is sorely needed in a district .
In short, the district’s refusal to sell one of its vacant buildings is legally and financially questionable. But most importantly, it’s not in the best interest of the Columbus community or its students. Transforming a dilapidated building into a thriving school would almost certainly improve the neighborhood in which Monroe sits. And the students who would attend that school call Columbus home. USN serves Columbus families who want to exercise a choice they believe is in their children’s best interest. Unfortunately, their choices are being stymied by the district’s refusal to follow the law.
Columbus City officials need to ask themselves why they’re so afraid of what USN would do with a vacant building they haven’t used in years. It’sfor districts and charters to peacefully coexist and be mutually beneficial. But until districts like Columbus follow state law regarding facilities, such collaboration will continue to be a pipe dream.
NOTE: Today, the Primary and Secondary Education Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives is hearing testimony on House Bill 409 which would, among other things, make changes to the way that online charter schools track and report attendance. Fordham’s Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy presented proponent testimony before the committee; these are his written remarks.
Thank you, Chair Jones, Vice Chair Manchester, Ranking Member Robinson and committee members for giving me the opportunity today to provide testimony in support of House Bill 409.
My name is Chad Aldis, and I am the Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The Fordham Institute is an education-focused nonprofit that conducts research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C. Our Dayton office is also an approved Ohio charter school sponsor.
As many of you know, Fordham has been a staunch supporter of school choice for decades. We believe that every family deserves the right to choose their child’s school; however, we also believe that state and local leaders have a duty to ensure that these options are high-quality. Although the Ohio General Assembly has done a considerable amount of work in the last few years to improve charter school laws, the unique nature of online schools and the well-publicized closure of The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) has made any policy changes in the online space—even when warranted—difficult to enact as there’s a concern that any changes could be perceived to weaken accountability.
With that context, it was good to see the introduction of HB 409. It provides a framework whereby an online charter school can disenroll a student for unexcused absences and for failure to participate in instructional activities. It’s an idea—already being used in Indiana—that we have supported for a number of years.
The bill allows online charters to adopt a policy related to engagement in instructional activities and requires schools to provide notice to parents and make an attempt to improve student engagement before disenrolling a student. When a student is disenrolled, the legislation requires that parents be provided a list of educational options and notice be given to the local school district.
The proposal—somewhat unorthodox—is premised on the acknowledgement that in a traditional classroom, teachers are able to directly observe students and select instructional strategies that increase the likelihood of student engagement. Teachers in online schools, on the other hand, are far more limited in how they can interact with students. Under current law, online schools are only able to monitor and enforce a student’s attendance; they have little power to hold students accountable for active participation. This means that hundreds or even thousands of online students could be cruising through school and not learning anything simply because they log in every day but don’t complete any work. Even if the school knows there’s a problem and the student isn’t learning much or isn’t engaged, its hands are largely tied. In such cases, students are being academically harmed and taxpayer dollars are being wasted.
This change would be a meaningful improvement in Ohio’s law regulating online education. One thing of note that we think should be clarified involves existing law (3314.03(A)(6)(b) O.R.C.) and is known as the 72 hour rule. It provides that students missing 72 consecutive hours be automatically withdrawn from a school. HB 409 doesn’t explicitly remove this provision, but it references the subsection in a manner that would make it prudent to modify the language to ensure that safeguard isn’t accidentally rendered moot.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony. I’m happy to answer any questions that you might have.