Ohio Gov. John Kasich threw out the word "deregulation" in regard to public schools in a speech last week, and local school officials said they feel both concern and uncertainty about the governor's potential plans.
Kasich made the comments to the Ohio Newspaper Association in Columbus last Thursday. He said in general, he feels that giving local districts and their respective communities more control over instruction will help improve the quality of education.
Local school officials and legislators differ in opinion about what direction Kasich should take or whether the concept of deregulation is a positive movement.
"Anytime I can get more control over my district, I would welcome that," said Bruce Kidder, superintendent for Frontier Local Schools. "I think that's a very positive step forward in realizing that the problem needs to be solved as close to the students as possible."
Gov. Kasich's press secretary Rob Nichols said that the deregulation discussion was only a talking point as something the governor was thinking about for the future, and not anything tied to any policy or plan.
Though it was kept vague, education experts say deregulation could mean anything from removing regulations on class sizes to loosening teaching certifications to allow members of the business community to play a role in curriculum.
Ohio's public schools in numbers
1.8 million students.
614 public districts.
3,615 public schools.
Sixth largest public school system in the country.
Source: Ohio Department of Education.
Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, said she finds it ironic that Kasich made the comments when he has pushed for teacher evaluations and has been in favor of legislation that cuts public school funding, and is curious as to what his recent comments will turn into.
"Class size, where there's a documented impact, I think a lot of those standards are helpful to students to be successful," Phillips said. "If what he's looking at is removing operating standards while cutting funds, that doesn't sound good."
Washington Elementary School Principal Scott Kratche is striving to decrease class sizes. Kratche said if possible, he would love to have all classes below 20 students.
"To compare a class of 20 with no teacher aide, that's a huge benefit to those kids then a class over 30 with no aide," he said. "It puts a hardship on the large class size."
Ohio Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said he is in favor of certain deregulation procedures, and does not feel that small class sizes automatically make for a better learning experience.
"Class size factors vary based on teachers," he said. "Arbitrarily setting a number creates problems elsewhere. You have to give flexibility to local districts."
Currently, Ohio has an official regulation that requires there to be one teacher for every 20 students, but the state has loosened requirements to allow districts to make exceptions as a result of budget cuts.
"If you're talking about a high level of highly motivated high school students that's one thing," Phillips said. "But if you're talking about at-risk students in second or third grade that face the prospect of being held back, the prospect of having bigger class sizes is concerning."
Warren Local Schools Superintendent Kyle Newton said he feels any speech about deregulation to improve public schools could be a mask for covering up more funding cuts.
"When you talk about deregulating education, that scares me, because it sounds like you're trying to disrupt our schools while hiding behind 'power to the people,'" he said.
Kasich's idea of allowing the business community to have more power in the education process is hailed as a positive way to broaden the scope of instruction as well as an example of the governor's preference toward charter schools, which are run in a fashion more similar to private schools.
Kratche said the idea of letting business and community members step in to provide supplemental education can enrich learning, as an accountant could come in and teach to an accounting class. But teachers, he said, still need to do the teaching.
"There are specific credentials that teachers have that not everyone sees the benefit of, but they are there," Kratche said, who has previously worked as a physical education teacher as well.
Kidder said that the idea would help give control to those who are closest to the schools.
"That doesn't mean I wouldn't hire the best candidate for the job, but it would be a nice option that would give us more control over what we do," he said.
Thompson said giving the business community more of a role in schools can have benefits.
"There have been some positive examples in western Ohio where businesses come in to help for local expenses in schools," he said. "I think the business approach helps. They can be great partners for internships, too."
Phillips urged local school officials not to be quick to pick sides until more has come out about any plans the governor may have.
"I would encourage educators to look at the details before getting on the bandwagon," she said. "Hang tight, and wait to see how it will affect our schools."