Draft plan to reopen Ohio schools shows some promise on safety and equity
Posted May 19, 2020 in Press Releases
Will lawmakers walk the talk?
The Ohio Department of Education’s draft plan to reopen the state’s schools strives to keep students safe from the coronavirus, but doing so is likely to be more expensive in low-income communities. More than two decades ago the Ohio Supreme Court found the state funding of schools to be unconstitutional because it failed to ensure an equal quality of education in poor school districts as in rich ones. Today’s draft reopening plan mentions the deeply- rooted social and educational inequities within the state’s education system and states that equity must be at the forefront of short and long term solutions. Moving forward, lawmakers must include school funding as part of those solutions. As legislators start hearings on the plan, Senior Project Director Wendy Patton released the following statement:
“Whether we live in the suburbs, cities or in rural communities, public schools are the bedrock of our communities. Ohio’s public schools just took it on the chin, absorbing $300 million in state budget cuts in the last two months of the school year. Federal money from the CARES act will not offset the blow in all districts, particularly where districts must absorb the state cuts for charter schools and private schools funded with public money through vouchers. Districts will have to spend reserves and some are laying off staff to manage the first round of DeWine’s cuts, and will now face the future from a weakened position.
“The reopening plan lays out a new kind of future. The physically distanced classrooms will require more resources than in the past. Classes will be smaller and needs will be greater. Many children will need tutoring and additional support, including targeted summer sessions. Schools will need an army of substitutes as teachers get sick or go into quarantine, and they will need additional custodial staff to do the constant cleaning that will be required to keep staff, students and their families as safe as possible.
“The plan repeatedly speaks to the need for online learning even while noting this can’t be done everywhere. Some rural areas lack access to broadband, while in districts both urban and rural many families can’t afford wireless service or the kind of devices needed to engage in online learning. Even phone calls won’t work for families with low incomes that have to ration cellphone minutes.
“All districts must accommodate children and staff with medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus, but districts will not face the same challenges. For example, children who live in urban areas have higher rates of asthma. To keep students safe, these schools may need more remote instruction, which can be expensive and difficult to implement. The draft reopening plan notes that students who need the most extra support will likely be difficult to reach – such as young people experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, and those whose families have low incomes and tend to move more frequently. Funding from the state’s new ‘Student Wellness and Success’ program will provide some resources for such supports, but it too faces a 20% agency budget cut.
“Federal dollars will help school districts with these expenses to varying degrees and for a limited time. The draft reopening plan’s statement on equity is just talk without funding that is sustainable and lays the groundwork for a more equitable school system after the pandemic subsides. The deep recession does not have to be a barrier – it wasn’t in the last recession, during which lawmakers made progress on a plan for equitable school funding. Will Ohio’s lawmakers put the same kind of priority on Ohio’s children and their future? Governor DeWine’s start – with the budget ax – isn’t promising. He and the General Assembly need a new approach if they are going to walk the talk.”