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     Quite a while ago, I read an editorial written by the Plain Dealer editorial board declaring that the ODE should grant Cleveland Schools their request for $13 million from the Straight A Fund (Cleveland Schools Need a Boost from the Straight A Fund).  Yes, I hope that Cleveland does get the money that they requested.  The funds being asked for would upgrade Internet access, provide additional technology to 3rd-8th graders and help create a digital high school.  However, simply getting $13 million dollars is short sighted.  There are 2 big picture items here.

1)  Cleveland Schools deserve far more than $13 million

  • When the Mayor and his coalition set out to change the law and create HB 525 – they did not ask for any money to fund the plan.  I always said that the state should cough up the money to actually allow the school district to implement this plan.
  • Just this year, John F. Kennedy School was awarded a $3.5 million Carnegie grant, which is great.  Do note that is $3.5 million for one school to implement a fundamental change in their program.  How much money is invested in all the rest of our schools?  No, here is a better question - how much money is available to be earmarked for the 13 Corrective Action (Investment Schools)?  Do not get me wrong – the grant is great, my point is that reform does cost money and it would be optimal if there were funds that were available to all schools and certainly at the very least, the Corrective Action (Investment) Schools.  The state should have provided those funds.
  • In May of 2012, the CTU held a rally to encourage the Governor to release some of the built up Rainy Day Fund to put into classrooms to benefit students.  For a year the CTU lobbied and met with law makers in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate asking for the state to redirect funds to educate Cleveland’s students (eventually we stopped asking for Rainy Day funds because tax collection rate was coming in higher than anticipated and we did not care where the money came from as long as it was earmarked for our students).
  • The Cleveland Teachers Union proposal requested money that would:  increase the number of students that could attend preschool, improve technology and enable schools to purchase technology (such as IPad and Nooks), provide additional professional development, extend the school day or school year at certain schools, provide summer enrichment programs for students, provide interventions in middle and high school classes to increase graduation rate, implement high-quality programs that have proven successful in other urban districts, and provide all of the materials (trade books, manipulatives, etc.) and the professional development to implement all changes.  The initial request was for $52 million.  Many lawmakers agreed with the CTU that Cleveland did deserve additional funds and a request should be made.  The CTU had legislation drafted that would direct funds to Cleveland for the purposes stated above.
  • We continually kept our coalition partners informed of our work.  However, for some reason, the Mayor’s partners were not supportive of the Cleveland Schools getting additional funds from the state of Ohio.  They felt that Cleveland could just put in a request through the Straight A Fund (that is such a cop-out and I will say why in point #2).  Maybe for the business and philanthropic community, HB 525 was not about the kids, but about changing the work rules for adults.  It is not the changes to the work rules that are going to make a difference for the students of Cleveland; it is the actual changes in the classroom that are going to make a difference.  I still cannot figure out how a few months ago these leaders of Cleveland could even remotely be opposed to enabling more four-year olds to go to preschool or how leaders of Cleveland could be opposed to the state coming up with funds to provide materials and technology that will be directly in the hands of students.  I don’t know how a few months ago leaders of Cleveland could be opposed to summer enrichment or the ability for students to have a longer school year to help eliminate the summer gap.  I don’t know how – but they were.
  • Then just a little over two weeks ago, many of the Mayor's Coalition Partners (CTU included) were asked to convene to try and figure out how to expand preschool for all 4 year olds in the city of Cleveland.  The same issue CTU passionately advocated for state funding earlier this year and found no support among many of the same partners has finally found wide spread support.  I would like to say it makes no sense to me, but it does make sense.  In Cleveland, school improvement is not driven by our educators, parents or community partners.   For the most part it remains too often in the hands of a small group of influential business and philanthropic leaders.
  • CTU worked for a year meeting with law makers and even the Governor’s office.  Like many legislators, the Governor’s office was supportive of the request initially.  However, when the budget came out in January it included the Straight A Fund and no mention of Cleveland.  The Governor’s office then thought our request for additional funds should come from the Straight A Fund.  We were opposed to that and I will explain why below.
  • CTU eventually reduced the initial ask from $52 million to $26 million and as the budget came closer to being voted on the proposal was reduced to $10 million targeting the Corrective Action (Investment) Schools.  Let’s not forget that lawmakers voted to create Corrective Action Schools and now we were just asking them to fund it.
  • Representatives Mike Foley, Sandra Williams, and Jim Buchy worked with leadership of the House to try to bring our measure to the floor for a vote.  This legislation never made it to the Floor.
  • Senator Nina Turner did bring our measure to the Floor of the Senate and it was voted down. Not surprisingly along party lines.
  • We worked with a lot of good people trying to do the right thing for students of Cleveland and we will continue to work with anyone that is working for the betterment of our students and the conditions in which they learn.

2)  Straight A Fund is a Competitive Grant

  • School districts should not have to compete with each other for funds that they need. 
  • In Gov. Kasich’s first budget cycle, for FY 12 and FY 13 reduced CMSD funding from the state by $21,157,254.   67% of the CMSD budget comes from state funds.  The FY 12 and FY 13 reductions in state funding lead to massive lay-offs, increased class sizes, and a reduced school day for students in K-8 schools by 50 minutes.
  • Gov. Kasich’s second budget for FY 14 and FY 15 leaves CMSD flat lined, while all of the other big urban districts did see some sort of increase.  Much of the Governors rhetoric leading up to this budget proclaimed a fix to school funding.  That fix turned out to be rubber stamping his first devastating budget cuts. 
  • According to the ODE website “The Straight A Fund will provide funds to educational entities in Ohio with the drive and courage to try new approaches that: 
  • 1) Meet the learning needs of its students
  • 2) Reduce the cost of running a school or school district, or
  • 3) Drive more dollars to the classroom.Through a rigorous screening process, Ohio will give creative and cost-effective solutions the seed funding they need to get off the ground. We will be on the lookout for proposals that solve specific problems in our schools, can be quickly duplicated by others and are sustainable.”
  • Creation of the Straight A Fund gave the Governor and his people the ability to dodge bullets when school districts languished over cuts to funding or begged for adequate funding for their schools, by simply telling districts that the budget did not need to change because they could simply apply for more money via the Straight A Fund.
  • $250 million dollars has been set aside for the Straight A Fund.  $100 million is available for this fiscal year and $150 million in FY 2015.
  • So, there is $100 million available in the Straight A Fund; last month 420 organizations submitted 570 applications totaling $868 million in funding requests.  Something tells me that school districts around the state of Ohio do not have the funds that they need to support their students and learning communities.
  • Given the rhetoric we have heard about fixing school funding and the overwhelming response for additional monies, the Straight A Fund is nothing more than a cop-out 21 months before Governor Kasich seeks re-election.  While school districts and Ohio’s children are now pitted against each other in competing for minimal dollars.  However, the Governor and his people now never have to say NO to requests for necessary funding; they can just simply kick the can down the road to the Straight A Fund that does not have nearly enough capital for the needs of Ohio’s schools.

     Cleveland’s students do deserve the funding the school district requested through the Straight A Fund.  The upgrades to technology will directly affect the students’ ability to perform on the new assessments.  Not having the funds to do this solely hurts kids.  But the money from the Straight A Fund is only a smidgeon of the funds that should be directed to CMSD.  Whether you agree with HB 525 or not, the leaders of Cleveland did go out on a limb. Whether you agree with the school levy or not, the citizens of Cleveland did go out on a limb and pass Issue 107.  When is the state going to recognize the work here in Cleveland and open its boosted funds and really support educational opportunities in Cleveland?  They do not even have to go out on a limb – state funds are available (higher tax collection than anticipated, Medicare expansion savings, Rainy Day fund).   This is something that the leaders of Cleveland could have easily worked together on already, yet it still may not be too late to get together and demand what is needed for the students of CMSD.

In Union,