Cordray & DeWine Differ Sharply on Improving Education in Ohio

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By Catherine Candisky
The Columbus Dispatch
Oct. 6, 2018

Ohio’s major-party candidates for governor, Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine, both have outlined education plans calling for reducing standardized testing, expanding public preschool, and increasing aid to disadvantaged students.

Many of their proposals carry big price tags, but neither candidate seeking election on Nov. 6 has said where the money would come from.

Today’s story is the third in a series on major issues in the governor’s race.

Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow

Despite common themes, Cordray and DeWine differ on how they would improve education, starting with the ECOT debacle and ongoing state efforts to recover $80 million that the online charter school improperly received from the state by inflating its attendance.

Cordray says DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general for the past eight years, should have acted sooner against the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. Since opening in 2000, the school received more than $1 billion in state; in that time, school founder Bill Lager and his associates donated about $2.5 million to state officeholders, most of them Republicans.

” Dewine should have acted sooner against the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.” Richard Cordray

“Our public schools have been undermined for years by leaders in the Statehouse who’ve put the bottom lines of for-profit charter-school operators ahead of the best interests of our students,” said Cordray, who was director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for five years and previously served as Ohio attorney general and treasurer.

DeWine, who donated to charity an amount equal to the campaign contributions he received from ECOT, rejects accusations of blame for the school, which closed in January.

“I’m the only person on this stage who has taken any action against ECOT,” he said during last week’s gubernatorial debate, referring to a lawsuit recently filed by his office against Lager and his top lieutenants to recover more than $60 million still owed the state.

School Vouchers

If elected governor, Cordray says, he would ban for-profit companies from operating tax-funded, privately run charter schools like ECOT, permit only nonprofit ones, and “put that money back into the public classrooms where it belongs.”

He says he would require operators to “show a record of success” before contracting with charter schools, and existing schools would have to demonstrate improvement and student achievement or face closure. Charter schools received more than $850 million in state aid last year.

Cordray proposes that the state directly pay for tuition vouchers and charter schools and eliminate fund transfers from public schools. Educators have long complained that such transfers result in a financial loss that districts must fill with local levy money. In addition, Cordray would require charter schools, which are exempt from dozens of requirements, to be subject to the same rules as traditional public schools.

DeWine has long supported giving parents and their children alternatives to traditional public schools, including charters, but he says they must be providing a quality education.

“We need to pay for outcomes and increase money to high-performing and academically improving schools, and decrease funding for poor-performing ones,” he said.

In response to ECOT, DeWine proposes to hold online schools more accountable by requiring them to show that their students are competent based on end-of-course exams before receiving all their state aid.

Both candidates have concerns about how Ohio finances education more than 25 years after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled for a fourth time that the state’s system of funding public schools is unconstitutional, denying students in the poorest districts access to a quality education.

School Funding Formula

A recent study found that state funding of Ohio schools per pupil increased 35 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars in the first decade after the DeRolph decision, but in the past 10 years, it has decreased by 2 percent when adjusted for inflation. According to state testing data, poor students continue to lag academically behind their wealthier peers.

Cordray says the system remains “unconstitutional.” DeWine wouldn’t agree, saying “the important question is: How do we improve education for kids every year.”

Neither Cordray nor DeWine is proposing a new funding formula, although Cordray campaign officials say they are waiting to see recommendations from a legislative committee working on the issue. Instead, the candidates talk about helping poor children, starting with preschoolers.

Early-Childhood Education

Both plan to expand subsidized early-childhood education, and they support a state program that is being implemented to improve the quality of public preschools.

Cordray and DeWine would broaden eligibility for the program to families earning up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, an increase from 130 percent. The change would give thousands more children access to subsidized preschool programs designed to have them ready for kindergarten.

DeWine also wants to expand a program that provides home visits to pregnant women and continues after their babies are born to ensure they get needed services.

DeWine proposes making K-12 funding more equitable by directing more state aid to the poorest districts. How much of an investment will depend on the state budget.

Educational Support Roles

Cordray would seek to close gaps in funding and student achievement in several ways. He wants to provide mental-health and dental services and after-hours programs in schools to address students’ needs so they are ready to learn.

He would secure funding to allow schools to hire back support personnel such as librarians, nurses, and guidance counselors whose positions were lost to budget cuts. He also hopes to attract and retain more teachers by offering loan repayment and other financial incentives for them to stay in the classroom.

Student Testing & Higher Education

Cordray and DeWine also agree that less is best with student testing.

“Over-testing, combined with inadequate funding, have narrowed the curriculum in a way that pushes out art, music and other meaningful ways to engage students,” Cordray said. “Although testing remains a necessary benchmark, we will move away from using high-stakes tests to drive learning and instead give students the tools to become resilient, lifelong learners.”

According to the Ohio Department of Education, schools administer 23 statewide tests, including 17 mandated by the federal government. Both Cordray and DeWine would reduce testing to the federal minimum.

“We’ll take it down to at least 17,” DeWine said. “We’ll also look at the federal ones to see if we can get waivers” from some of those, too.

Cordray opposes the state taking over failing school districts, as has happened in Youngstown and Lorain, arguing that it undermines local control. Instead, he said the state will provide assistance and resources to help local officials turn their schools around.

DeWine said he’s open to alternatives, “but the main thing is to get resources into schools and not allow the status quo.”
To make college more affordable, DeWine proposes that Ohio’s voluntary tuition guarantee become mandatory for all public universities and colleges so that no student pays more than they did their freshman year. In addition, he would tie state funding for institutions of higher education to job-attainment rates to incentivize efforts to help graduates find work.

Cordray has a plan to allow students to attend community college for free. Under his “last dollar” approach, the state will cover the remaining cost of community college for students who have maxed out grants and scholarships.

ccandisky@dispatch.com | @ccandisky