Ross discusses Ohio education funding

MARIETTA – Ohio’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross said Monday that funding will always be an issue for education, but the state’s most famous case regarding the matter is no longer driving the policy discussion.

During a meeting with local business and education leaders at the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, Ross fielded a question about the 1997 DeRolph case in which the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the state’s school-funding system relied too heavily on property taxes and ordered that a constitutional funding system be enacted.

Terry Rataiczak, president of the Noble County Chamber of Commerce and owner of Kinetic Networking in Caldwell, asked why nothing has been done to address it.

“The supreme court gave up control of the case, so as far as we’re concerned, it’s over,” Ross said.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor earlier this year acknowledged the court can’t bring back a case no longer before it, but said she still did not believe DeRolph and other cases had been adequately addressed.

Prior to being appointed superintendent in March, Ross was the director of Gov. John Kasich’s Office of 21st Century Education when Kasich’s “Achievement Everywhere” school funding plan was announced in January. The plan drew heavy criticism because 60 percent of schools would not have received funding increases.

Revisions in the House and Senate changed the formula significantly, but Ross noted not many people seem to like the compromises either.

“That probably means it’s all right,” he said, adding later that “I’m sure we’ll do this again in two years.”

John Charlton, associate director of communications for the Ohio Department of Education, said Ross wasn’t suggesting the funding model won’t continue to be examined.

“I don’t think Dr. Ross is trying to say in any way that we don’t care about the funding,” he said.

Ross emphasized that above a certain level, additional spending has no correlation with students’ academic performance.

“We have to be mindful that just throwing more money at things doesn’t get us the results we want,” he said.

Ross said the Straight A Fund in the recently passed biennial budget bill, allocates $250 million for initiatives that improve learning, reduce costs and drive dollars to the classroom. In that way, the money is targeted toward specific initiatives a state committee determines will yield results.

“This is a really significant opportunity for schools to (have) both the political capital and fiscal capital to change what they’re doing,” he said.

Earlier Monday, Ross met with local superintendents. He’s been going around the state to hear concerns and discuss education issues. One he’s emphasizing heavily is literacy and Ohio’s third-grade reading guarantee.

“I think we doom students if we don’t give them that skill,” he said.

The guarantee requires students to read at grade level by the end of third grade or be retained. Some have questioned the effectiveness of this approach, but Ross noted students would not have to repeat the entire grade.

“The retention … is only in the reading area; it’s not across the board,” he said.

Marietta chamber President Charlotte Keim asked Ross to address the Common Core education standards, which have recently come under fire as being a federal overreach into education matters and been criticized as inferior standards.

“How does it better prepare our students for life and make us as a nation more competitive?” she said.

Ross said he believes the standards are an improvement on what Ohio has had for more than a decade.

“I think these are much more challenging standards for the youngsters,” he said. “I’m) not understanding what’s controversial about the math and the language arts (standards).”

Local attorney Khadine Ritter questioned the limits that are placed on the amount of fiction materials versus nonfiction.

“There’s a cap on the amount of fiction you’re required to read,” she said.