Republican State Rep Ryan Smith represents the “heart of Appalachia” in Gallia County. In today’s House Finance and Appropriations Committee hearings he described himself as living in a “high poverty district that can’t get a levy through.”
During the hearings [video available here at 137:53] Smith asked a very moving question of Richard A. Ross, head the Governor’s Office of 21st Century Education. He simply wanted to know what, if anything, this budget would do to help the severely underfunded schools in his district, schools that are laying off teachers and other vital staff and can’t afford to provide simple classes in art of music. Ross compared his schools to the fast growing Olentangy school district in Central Ohio.
“Olentangy schools have German 1,2 and 3, Jewelry 1, Ceramics 1, Sculpture 1, Stage Craft 1, Concert Orchestra,” said Smith. ”These are things that children of Appalachia don’t get exposed to.”
“I’m not asking for synchronized swimming or a swimming pool or anything extra. I’m not asking for violin lessons or cello lessons. What I want for is my kids is music. And art… just give them a basic education,” pleaded Smith.
State Rep Smith also tells the story of Symmes Valley School District where the Superintendent had to layoff his board secretary, transportation director and curriculum director and is now doing all of those jobs himself. Another school district in Smith’s area has lost 40 teachers and the rest have had no raises in four years.
Smith ends by asking Ross asking if there is any “special sauce” in this budget that will help superintendents just provided a basic education to the kids in his district?
Ross does not have a good answer for Smith, and instead attempts to relay the “benefits” of Kasich’s money-follows-the-child model of school funding.
Ross notes that Symmes Valley and other less-wealthy Appalachian school districts likely get more in per-pupil funding from the state than Olentangy. And while true, this is hardly a meaningful or useful response to the question given that Olentangy is flush with cash and hiring teachers for jewelry making classes, while Symmes Valley can’t even afford a part time art teacher.
Ross claims he doesn’t have the exact funding numbers in front of him. We looked them up: in Kasich’s proposed budget the rich Olentangy district will get a 331.58% funding increase in 2014 and another 23.45% increase in 2015. Symmes Valley, the poor Appalachian district, will get a 0% increase in both years. This after getting cut nearly $600,000 in Kasich’s first budget according to CutsHurtOhio.com.
Ross then offers Smith and his school officials another option: apply for a Straight A Fund grant and hire a teacher to share across districts.
Under the Straight A program, schools can apply for money to fund a project that will end up reducing costs long term. For example, increasing class sizes on one teacher to allow another to be laid off. Or making an investment in technology that can ultimately replace teachers.
Again, this is not a solution to Smith’s problem. If a school doesn’t already have a music or art teacher, hiring one is going to increase costs over the long term, even if they share that teacher with multiple districts. The Straight A Fund is a useless option for schools that want to expand opportunities for their kids into areas they can’t currently afford to fund. But it seems to be the stock answer Kasich’s people are using when anyone questions their budget.
Ross also tells them to use “Digital Opportunities” but jokingly admits he wouldn’t want to be the one who had to teach online music classes.
Ross seems to think the idea of poverty-stricken Appalachian kids learning the tuba from a computer program is quite hilarious. I think it’s downright disgraceful.
What’s next? Online gym class? Online recess? Online detention and lunch?
Kasich told school superintendents that poor schools would be getting more money and rich schools would be getting less. That was a lie.
Kasich and his education advisers know full well that their budget does nothing to help provide equal education opportunities for all of Ohio’s children and they honestly don’t care. And when confronted by a very specific and sad example, they make jokes instead of providing answers.