Unlike some of his predecessors, Gov. John Kasich doesn't embrace the mantle of "education governor." That's a plus, given the fact that those who did so didn't actually achieve a great deal in improving the state of education in Ohio.
Kasich, however, is touting educational reform -- including a new approach to school funding -- in his "Achievement Everywhere" program, which he unveiled Jan. 31 and defended Feb. 19 in his State of the State presentation. The governor says his program represents a "common-sense" approach to sharing resources.
"The simple fact of the matter is we're going to have to work together to make sure that we are moving our resources to those districts that have unique students, that are not as wealthy, those districts that do not have the population; we've got to do it together because the current system is not serving the boys and girls in our state as effectively as we could be doing it," he said.
He reiterated that his plan will help resolve school funding inequities, aid school districts with modest resources and special needs students while adding $1.2 billion in funds over the next two years.
Kasich's critics aren't buying that, however. Ohio Education Association president Patricia Frost-Brooks said the governor's pledge to increase school funding is "an empty promise." State Rep. Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, said that Kasich's formula "just gives up on public schools."
Critics point to the fact that roughly 400 of the state's 613 school districts will receive no increase in state funding next year, including many whose resources can be described as modest at best. At the same time, some districts that are perceived as wealthier will receive more funding, including one in the Columbus area whose state support will triple. Those numbers are hard to square with Kasich's contention, "If you are poor, you're going to get more." Those words may haunt him.
Critics also note Kasich's plan to increase funding for charter schools and expand school vouchers; both effectively drain state resources from public schools. It also does little to relieve the schools' dependency on local property taxes.
House Speaker William Batchelder remains supportive of the governor's program, but added it "may require certain finessing and working with."
Batchelder first began serving at the Statehouse more than 40 years ago. He knows that the devil is in the proverbial details. Whether Kasich's plan will do for Ohio schools what he claims it will do remains an open question. It certainly is in need of "finessing."