It's that time of year - time to go back to school. My grandma used to say that, once the cicadas start to sing incessantly, you know school will be underway shortly. As a father of three and the husband of a high school Spanish teacher, I sense the pace picking up quite a bit at the Thompson household shortly before everyone heads back to school. This year is no exception.
And yet, some things never change when it comes to our schools: The kids still have to learn, the teachers are engaged and ready to teach, and there are inevitably sporting events to attend. But our schools will have a number of advantages going into this coming school year thanks to progress made in the state legislature this year.
When the Ohio House was crafting the state operating budget, we had to adjust funding given the inflated figure the previous year due to stimulus dollars. A tough economy like the current one has dragged resources for the schools down, along with tax revenues. We knew that the state budget would not only have to be restrained, but innovative. Since we know that families are hurting along with our economy, we capped annual college tuition increases at 3.5 percent.
It's become common knowledge that our schools are lacking in funding. I wish that Ohio had the resources to pay for everything our schools need, but the simple fact is that we don't. From my position, the best way to respond is to give schools the financial flexibility they need to address those needs as best they can. The House went about this predominantly by reforming the relationship between public employee unions and their employers. By updating Ohio's outdated collective bargaining laws, we are helping to ensure that mass layoffs can be avoided and taxpayer dollars can be used in the most efficient and effective way possible, which is essential to getting us out of this economic lull. At the same time, using the vernacular of "Race to the Top," Ohio is instituting performance pay measures so that the teachers who get the best results can be rewarded for their efforts.
Additionally, we allowed for financial flexibility early on in the year by removing some of the unfunded and underfunded mandates-or those that just don't pass the common sense test-put in place by the previous General Assembly and governor. These included requirements such as all-day, everyday kindergarten that, while it may be a laudable goal, is something many schools simply cannot afford at this time. Compelling schools to adopt a specific teacher/pupil ratio is likewise impractical in many cases. We also tackled issues such as how much a school must spend per pupil and the fact that our schools were given only three calamity days-a number that was restored to five because of the harsh weather that our state must deal with every year. There is currently a proposal in the legislature to adjust the school calendar to require a minimum number of hours per school year rather than a minimum number of days, which would give school districts additional flexibility.
When it comes down to it, most decisions are better made on the local level, where those in the community who know the situation can best decide the proper course to take. One size fits all rules that are implemented from afar are simply not feasible in many situations. In the past, this has prevented our state from benefiting from programs such as Teach For America, which brings in recent college grads at the top of their class, offers them intensive training, and directs them to teach at struggling schools where they connect with the students in bold, innovative ways. This program, which enjoys strong bipartisan support, has produced remarkable results. Last year, 400 Ohio college grads had to leave Ohio to participate in Teach For America. Thanks to the passage of Substitute House Bill 21, parents and students in those districts will now have the option to employ these dynamic young people in their schools. Teach For America has been all over America, but now it is finally coming to Ohio.
My thanks go out to the many school officials and teachers who have done more with less this year. We in the legislature will continue to look for ways to bring costs down for school districts and to provide additional flexibility. We all want excellent schools. With the reforms that the Ohio House has implemented over the past six months, we are headed in the right direction.
Rep. Thompson may be reached by calling (614) 644-8728, e-mailing District93@ohr.state.oh.us, or writing to State Rep. Andy Thompson, 77 South High St., Columbus, Ohio 43215.