Ohio students deserve a fair educational system

The need to address the complex, and for some, unfair formula for funding public education in Ohio is well-documented.

The present funding formula that pretends to balance the needs of densely populated urban districts and sparsely populated rural districts has failed. The only districts that seem to be doing reasonably well with the present formula are the more affluent, suburban districts who can afford to make up for whatever shortfall the state budget leaves them to address. Each budget cycle all school districts are victims of a budget process that funds education last.

A new paradigm is needed. The Ohio Legislature needs to listen to each local district and to fashion a package of state aid that is based on specific needs rather than enrollment. For districts that need free public preschool to ensure that all children start ready to learn, dollars to support this important component should be provided. Currently, only those districts who can afford to fund public preschool or whose families are affluent enough to pay privately are able to provide this critical experience for children.

For many families in inner-city districts the inability to afford quality pre-school education puts these children at a distinct disadvantage from their suburban counterparts. The same issue exists in rural areas where few private preschools are found and where many families would find the cost beyond their ability to pay.

For both urban and rural districts where families of limited means represent a significant portion of the population, the need for social supports led by trained social workers is critical. Such supports, that work with families to remove the barriers to full participation in the educational process, mean the difference between successful graduation and dropping out. While faith-based and community groups can certainly assist in this effort, the importance of this “social capital” is such that school systems need to have professional leadership to ensure continuity.

While social workers in schools and publicly-funded preschools, may be new solutions to barriers that families face in preparing children for school; transportation for rural districts is a problem as old as time. The problem, for districts which are large in area but sparse in population, is that buses must travel miles down gravel roads to pick up one or two children. The cost in time plus wear and tear on the school bus is something which urban or suburban districts of a few square miles are unable to imagine. Again, the Ohio Legislature has failed to recognize this very real cost that rural districts must bear. School boards in these rural districts are forced to use general program funds to fulfil their mandate to provide transportation.

The fact is, if school districts didn’t provide buses, lots of children would not be able to get to school.

So how does Ohio move from an archaic formula, based on a complex system of criteria that even the legislators can’t explain to a funding plan that looks at each school district’s needs. Such a radical idea would allow local input and decision-making about priorities for the district, which puts the control of education where it should be, in the community.

For legislators, the idea of looking at the needs of each district would require that all legislators adopt the philosophy that all children in Ohio deserve a quality education regardless of where they live; urban, rural or suburban. The recognition that all of Ohio’s communities contribute to the unique combination of forests, flowing rivers, vibrant colleges, urban centers and farmland, that are Ohio; and that, all children, in each of these areas need a first-class education to succeed in the 21st century.

The cost of failure for any group only leads to more need for public assistance at taxpayer expense. The goal of every legislator ought to be the creation of an educational system that serves each child. Ohio’s children deserve no less.

Teresa Porter lives in Marietta. Education Works SEO meets the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Washington County Public Library.