Ohio’s Budget Severs Ties with PAARC Testing Consortium

Lots of states completed work on their budgets this week, because in many places the budget for next year, or sometimes for two years, has to be in place by June 30.  Is the budget language too arcane—too far in the weeds—for you?  I recommend reading about your state budget for a peek into how your legislators understand public education.

Ohio’s budget, just signed at the last minute on Tuesday night is an example.  Ohio dealt with the Common Core standards, sort of, in the state budget.  At least our legislature prescribed that we are changing test providers.  Here is how Patrick O’Donnell describes the budget action for the Plain Dealer: “Ohio became the latest state to pull out of the PARCC Common Core testing consortium tonight after months of angry complaints about the new online tests having too many technology glitches and of eating up far too much learning time for students… The compromise bill the two houses agreed upon… specifically bans the state from spending any money on tests from the 12-state consortium—now down to 11 after tonight—and calls for the Ohio Department of Education to immediately find a new provider of tests. Ohio spent $26 million for PARCC to provide math and English exams, both online and on paper, this past school year….”

The legislature and governor of Ohio heard the public outcry even if the fix they are providing avoids the deeper issues.  While Ohio is not getting rid of the Common Core and isn’t getting rid of standardized testing, it is changing providers.  O’Donnell suggests that Ohio is likely to move to tests designed by the American Institutes of Research, the current provider of exams in science and social studies that the state has been administering on top of  the PARCC tests.

It is hard to know quite what this means for the Common Core or for Common Core tests.  It isn’t a good development for the consortium of states that, O’Donnell explains, partnered to develop the PARCC tests, and which, in 2011, included Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and the District of Columbia.  The following states remain in the PARCC test consortium: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia.  New York is described as using PARCC, “in a far more limited way.”  The PAARC website itself explains that New York did not use PARCC in the 2014-2015 school year.

Chair of the education committee in the Ohio Senate, Petty Lehner, told Caitlin Emma of Politico Morning Education, “that the decision to leave PARCC came down to the backlash against it, with teachers concerned about the use of test scores in hiring and firing decisions, the length of the test and the Common Core standards themselves.”  Apparently in the Ohio legislature it is believed that the issues of overuse of testing for evaluating and hiring and firing teachers and the value of the Common Core Standards can be addressed by changing test providers.

In Ohio, the governor has a line item veto, and although Kasich didn’t veto Ohio’s exit from the PAARC consortium, his line-item veto of other measures will be very significant for the 610 public school districts across Ohio.

Kasich vetoed a longtime state reimbursement to local school districts to replace a local tax on inventory and equipment that the state summarily eliminated several years ago. This cut will apply only in the second year of the biennium.  Hannah Sparling reports for the Cincinnati Enquirer that Kasich also vetoed at least part of a hold-harmless school funding guarantee that prevents a school district’s state aid from falling below last year’s level.  The governor, Sparling explains, “trimmed the state education budget by $78 million Tuesday night, scrapping payments meant to reimburse school districts for the now-defunct tangible personal property tax.. and eliminating the so-called funding guarantee that would have ensured no district would lose state funding during the next two years.”  We will have to wait to learn how particular school districts are affected—whether funding cuts will impact only districts with significant capacity to replace state funding with local tax dollars (as the governor predicts) or whether they will further devastate needy districts.  The Columbus Dispatch had reported—before the Governor’s line-item veto imposed education funding cuts—that the legislature had planned to ensure that overall, 429 of Ohio’s 610 school districts would receive more state money over the next two years, while the rest would essentially be flat-funded.”

Stephen Dyer, former member of the Ohio House and former reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal, notes in his blog that “(D)istricts still are getting less in this budget than they did five years ago, adjusted for inflation. And that budget was developed at the height of the Great Recession.” At the same time the legislature just budgeted using money from the education fund to support a private organization—Teach for America, $4 million over two years, “to increase recruitment of potential corps members at select Ohio universities, train and develop first-year and second-year teachers in the Teach for America program in Ohio, and expand alumni support and networking within the state.”

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