Don’t Let John Kasich Anywhere Near The U.S. Department Of Education

Jeff Bryant
Don’t Let John Kasich Anywhere Near The U.S. Department Of Education

Some Very Serious People have decided Governor John Kasich of Ohio is the latest personality to emerge from the field of presidential candidates in the Republican Party to warrant genuine, bona fide consideration.

According to a roundup of political pundits and campaign strategists compiled by Politico, Kasich – along with Hewlett-Packard ex-CEO Carly Fiorina – put in a superior performance in the recent televised Republican presidential debate on Fox News. Folks at The Hill have christened Kasich a “sleeper candidate” who is “getting buzz because his message resonates more with the beltway crowd.” And analysts at Real Clear Politics, as of this writing, have Kasich edging ever so close to Jeb Bush who trails only Donald Trump in polling for the New Hampshire Republican primary.

Yet in all this horse-race analysis there is very little scrutiny of what Kasich’s track record actually is in the state he governed for the past four years – a consideration that should matter a lot in order to be recognized as a candidate in the first rank.

On the economic policy front, Kasich has very little to brag about. According to a recent op-ed by Dale Butland of Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank in that state, Kasich makes a case for his economic prowess based on an increase in jobs in his state since the Great Recession. But compared to other states, Ohio has “led the nation in lost jobs” and “is still about 140,000 jobs short of where we were in 2007 before the downturn began.” Job creation in the Buckeye state has “lagged the national average for 20 straight months” and kept its rank mired at 41st.

Butland points to an analysis by the Associated Press that shows “Ohio’s real median household income fell from $54,000 in 2007 to $45,000 in 2012 – a far steeper drop than for the nation as a whole. Nearly half of Ohio households now live paycheck to paycheck, and 16 percent have fallen into poverty.”

Another analysis from the Center for American Progress finds Kasich presided over an economy of expanding inequality where “the share of the total income generated across Ohio that has gone to the middle class has declined sharply,” and there has been “increasing concentration of income among extremely wealthy Ohioans.”

Of course, any politician as skilled as Kasich can respond to these judgments on his economic results by pointing to other factors. After all, state governors have only so much control over global and national forces that are screwing up the financial wellbeing of ordinary Americans. The studies by both AP and CAP go back to years before Kasich was elected, which hardly seems fair.

So on economic matters, state governors can often worm their way out of any tight corners their electoral opponents try to paint them into. But one policy area in particular that every state governor owns lock stock and barrel is education. Even with the more intrusive pressure coming from the federal government since the advent of No Child Left Behind, state governments are in charge of education policy, with the governor and his cabinet level staff the folks who are most in the leadership role of determining policy direction.

Given the current crop of Republican governors bidding for the presidential nomination, it is difficult to pick which has been worse on education policy.

As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush slashed education budgets, rolled out an absurd school grading system that stigmatized schools serving low-income kids, and opened the door to an invasion of corrupt charter school operations. In overseeing New Jersey schools, one of the top school systems in the country, Chris Christie has bullied teachers, slashed funding, and made the whole system vastly more unequal. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker has cut education spending, especially to the state’s prized university system, weakened teachers’ job protections, and spread a failed voucher scheme from Milwaukee across the state.

But the effect Governor Kasich has had on public education policy in Ohio is especially atrocious.

A quick report card compiled by Innovation Ohio, a progressive advocacy group in the state, finds that under a Kasich administration school spending hasn’t kept pace with inflation. This has left many school districts to rely more on local property taxes for funding, a financial situation that is virtually guaranteed to increase inequity in support of low-income schools. In the meantime, Kasich has jacked up the proportion of school funds diverted to private pockets, spending over $1 billion a year on charter schools and increasing the amount of money in the state’s voucher program by 113 percent.

Other education funding facts provided by Innovation Ohio”

  • Traditional public schools, which educate 90 percent of Ohio’s kids, receive $515 million less state funding than before Gov. Kasich took office.
  • Charter school funding has increased by 27 percent, and charters now receive more state money per pupil than do traditional public schools.

These factors alone should make anyone think twice before letting Kasich get anywhere near the US Department of Education – the federal agency historically tasked with enforcing states to uphold education equity in their school systems. But Kasich’s education record is so bad, a more in-depth examination is merited.

Right after he took office, Kasich trashed a school spending upgrade put into place by previous Governor Ted Strickland that would have, according to an article in Education Week, revamped state standards and assessments, required all-day kindergarten, and gradually increased spending to align with a “series of court decisions finding the state’s school finance system unconstitutional.”

He stocked the state board of education with charter school advocates, and undermined the state superintendent of education, Deborah Delisle, by creating an Office of 21st Century Education that would work on a “parallel track” to bring more “school choice” to the state. Then he appointed a former charter school executive Robert Sommers to head that office. Delisle was forced to resign.

Then Kasich and Sommers turned their attention to passing a bill, Senate Bill 5, which, according to an Education Week reporter, “would have stripped teachers and other public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights.” When educators fought back by getting the bill put up for a vote in a ballot recall, Ohioans overwhelmingly agreed, voting to reject that measure by a 22-point margin.

With the backing of the state legislature, Kasich then put into place a Jeb Bush style grading system that unfairly labeled schools serving high poverty kids “underperforming.” School officials in Cincinnati, who lead the state’s highest rated school system, denounced the grading system and said it would cause more families to opt for charter schools.

On the matter of charters, Educations Week’s state policy reporter Andrew Ujifusa finds, “The number of charter schools in Ohio has grown on Kasich’s watch, from about 325 in 2011 to about 370 today,” and “the governor made expanding state aid for charter school facility costs a top priority” even though “a study of Ohio charter schools’ performance found their students to lag behind their counterparts in traditional public schools.”

Under Kasich, Ohio charter schools have become a national embarrassment. Recently, an Ohio newspaper ran a story with the headline, “Ohio’s charter schools ridiculed at national conference, even by national charter supporters.”

Another Ohio paper begins its news story about Ohio charter schools, “No sector – not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals – misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio.” Reporter Doug Livingston writes, “State auditors have uncovered $27.3 million improperly spent by charter schools, many run by for-profit companies, enrolling thousands of children and producing academic results that rival the worst in the nation.”

Livingston notes that the Kasich administration’s response to this financial calamity is to starve the state auditors office so more audits are outsourced to private companies, even though, “These private firms found misspending in one of the 200 audits of charter schools they conducted, or half of 1 percent, while the state’s own police force of auditors found misspending in one of six audits, or 17 percent of the time.”

In light of the fact charter school malfeasance in Ohio has gotten so bad it’s even drawn the attention of FBI investigators, state lawmakers recently considered new legislation to stiffen regulation of those schools. Nevertheless, the state House declined to take up a final vote on the bill – an action that has subsequently been linked to political donations – even while legislation expanding school choice options sailed though.

Kasich’s biggest education-related boner, however, may have just surfaced. As education journalist Valerie Strauss reports from her blog at The Washington Post, the man Kasich hand-picked to oversee school choice programs in the state, David Hansen, recently resigned after admitting that he had unilaterally withheld failing scores of charter schools in state evaluations of the schools’ sponsor organizations so they wouldn’t look so bad. Hansen just happens to be married to Kasich’s chief of staff, who is now working on Kasich’s campaign. Because of the scandal, there are growing calls for the resignation of the Kasich-backed state superintendent of education, Richard Ross.

Oh, and by the way, those poor performing charter schools whose lousy results were being completely covered up by state policy leaders under Kasich just happen to be connected to some of the state’s largest political donors.

How has Kasich responded to this latest scandal?

First, Kasich dismissed calls for an investigation of the charter school data scrubbing scandal, calling the disgraceful matter “a political thing.”

He is apparently either ordering or allowing his education department to stall on answering requests for information from journalists who want to know who participated in the decision to illegally exclude the poorly performing charter schools from open accountability.

Now, his latest response is to call for changing the structure and role of the state board of education, which currently has 11 members who are elected and eight picked by the governor. One of the board’s chief responsibilities is to pick the state superintendent. What Kasich wants is to be able to appoint the entire board and, thus, determine who is state superintendent and completely control who is administrating the state’s system of public education.

If the fiasco Kasich has made of Ohio’s education system doesn’t make you concerned about what he would do to federal education policy, consider what his corrupt, misguided governance might mean to national security.

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