As the winner of last Tuesday’s Ohio Republican primary and the only Republican establishment candidate still officially in a race that could be decided via a contested convention in his home state, it’s John Kasich’s moment. What kind of President would Kasich, who has a reputation as a middle-of-the-road pragmatist, be on education?
His record as Governor and Congressman offers some clues. It’s a mixed bag, but there’s great cause for concern that Kasich would cut education funding and favor special interests over students.
School funding. Ohio actually cut funding for preK-12 education in Kasich’s first two years in office, but funding in subsequent years has inched up such that funding is now higher than under Kasich’s predecessor, Governor Ted Strickland. As a Congressman, Kasich was a budget hawk who consistently supported either freezing or cutting federal education funding. Education Week’s 2016 Quality Counts Report gave Ohio a “C” on school funding overall and a “B” on school funding equity. Kasich’s last school funding proposal made a push to send more money to low-wealth districts.
Student achievement. Ohio students rank 13th and 18th in the nation, respectively, in 4th and 8th grade math and 19th and 24th, respectively, on 4th and 8th grade reading. Ohio ranks lower – between 24th and 37th – in reading and math achievement poverty gaps. Overall, NAEP scores are about the same now as when Kasich entered office.
Charter schools. Numerous scandals have long plagued Ohio’s charter school sector. Kasich’s political donations from for-profit charter school operators Ann and David Brennan, founders of White Hat Management ($70,000 to Kasich and $1.4 million to the Republican party), and William Lager, founder of Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow ($1.5 million to the Republican party), have caused allegations of influence and favoritism (also see here and here).
Ohio’s charter school performance is highly criticized, but it’s more nuanced than general statements capture. CREDO’s 2014 study found that overall, the average Ohio charter student completes 14 fewer days of learning in reading and 36 fewer days in math. However, CREDO also concluded that “students in urban charter schools in Ohio post superior yearly gains compared to the statewide average student performance…” and that progress “for students in poverty and especially for black charter students in poverty over a year’s time outpaces that of equivalent traditional public school students.”
Of Ohio’s 117,000 charter students, 35,000 or about one-third, are enrolled in online schools. Last summer, controversy erupted when it came to light that the Kasich-appointed School Choice Director David Hansen excluded online schools’ value-added scores from the authorizer performance calculation. The perception that Hansen was protecting special interests and covering up low performance caused widespread outcry when the U.S. Department of Education announced a $71 million federal charter school program grant last year. The result, as the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, was that “The Buckeye State gets to keep the money – $32.6 million the first year followed by subsequent awards in years following – but it can’t use it right away. And, the U.S. Department of Education will be watching.”
Collective bargaining. Immediately after taking office in 2011, Kasich signed Senate Bill 5 into law. SB 5 reduced collective bargaining rights, prohibited teachers unions and other public sector unions from negotiating wages, eliminated automatic pay increases, banned strikes, prevented “fair share” dues for those that opt-out, and tied teacher salaries to performance. SB 5 affected 400,000 public employees. In November of 2011, 2.1 million voters vetoed SB 5 via a state referendum by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent.
Performance-based funding for higher education. In 2012, Kasich’s Higher Education Funding Commission recommended funding for higher education be increasingly focused on student success and completion. Beginning in 2014, 50 percent of funding for four-year institutions is now based on degree completion and 30 percent on course completion. For community colleges, 25 percent of funding is based on course completion and 25 percent on success points. It’s too soon to tell if this has resulted in better outcomes for students, but at least a systematic process for collecting and analyzing data is in place.
Common Core. Kasich is one of very few politicians that didn’t succumb to political pressure and continues to support Common Core. However, he blew his credibility on high academic standards when he allowed Ohio’s “proficiency” standard to be set below what other states set, resulting in some serious grade inflation. Jenn Hatfield and Max Eden of AEI concluded last November that Ohio is “proving the weakness of the Common Core approach,” stating that: “Ohio claims that 69 percent of its fourth graders are proficient in English, but if the state were using PARCC’s cut scores, the results would suggest that just 37 percent of Ohio students are on track for college or career.”
The Department of Education is obsolete? Education Week’s review of Kasich’s education record notes that he worked to freeze and cut federal education funding when serving in the House of Representatives. While he doesn’t say he’d abolish the Department of Education, Kasich espouses the extreme Republican view that the Department of Education is largely unnecessary.
In a letter to the Washington Post, he wrote: “I will bundle the department’s funds and send them back to the states with fewer strings attached.” He seems to have little concern that strings were attached because, for example, states and districts have diverted or misspent federal monies intended for disadvantaged students. Or that, as in Ohio with regard to for-profit and online charter schools, states often act to protect special interests rather than students.
Overall, while Kasich has done some good things in Ohio, there is serious cause for concern that, based on his record as both Governor and Congressman, Kasich would cut funding for education, fail to adequately oversee billions in federal education funds, and use education reform as a pretense to weaken public sector unions.