Competitive Grants: Winners and Losers? or A Just System for All?

Bill Phillis is the Executive Director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. Bill was Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction when I met him over twenty-five years ago.  I have always known him to be a champion for justice for Ohio’s children.

The Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding is the coalition that brought the DeRolph School funding case back in the early 1990s. In DeRolph v. State, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled four times that Ohio’s school funding is inadequate, inequitably distributed, and overly reliant on local property taxes. Then just over ten years ago, new members were elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, and the Court released jurisdiction in the case, in essence telling the legislature it was not required to produce a remedy.

This morning Bill critiques the idea of competitive grant programs as part of school funding.  At this time when our federal education policy emphasizes competition in programs like Race to the Top, Bill advocates for making the school funding system work to provide education as a civil right for all children.  He emphatically rejects the path we seem to be following instead—creating competitions by which some schools or school districts can qualify for public funding, while others are the losers.

I like to quote the Rev. Jesse Jackson on this subject because his formulation is so pithy and so profound: “There are those who would make the case for a race to the top for those who can run.  Instead ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.”

But this morning, I urge you to read the post I am reprinting from Bill Phillis below.  He opposes Ohio’s “Straight A” fund, our statewide Race to the Top.

Competitive Grants:  Winners and Losers?  What About Constitutional “Thorough and Efficient” for All?

William Phillis, Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding,  10/30/2013

The Straight A Fund–a state (Ohio) version of Race to the Top (RTTT)–attracted over 550 proposals seeking over $800 million. $100 million will be awarded in FY 2014. Competition for grant awards is momentous for the winners. For those students who attend districts that have no or limited art, music, AP courses, transportation and technology, the funds could be better used for basic programs and services via the school foundation program. For those districts that have students struggling with the 3rd Grade Guarantee, most assuredly, those funds could be better used across the board for that purpose. Funding for pre-school children would definitely be a better use of that funding. (Early childhood education, including the coaching of parents is the best vehicle available for breaking the poverty cycle.)

When a level playing field is accomplished, when a thorough and efficient system is provided throughout Ohio, when a uniform set of high quality educational opportunities are in place in every zip code, then and only then, would competitive education grants be justified. A thorough and efficient system of public common schools is the most urgent responsibility of state government. The Straight A Fund might be a rational scheme down the road after the state’s constitutional responsibility is met.

Incidentally, both the Economic Policy Institute and the U.S. General Accounting Office report that Race to the Top provides little solace for RTTT advocates. Among other things, RTTT is falling short of expectations. It would have been more rational to put the funds into the basic programs and services and level the education playing field; likewise, with the Straight A Fund.
William Phillis
Ohio E & A

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