Cross-posted from the State EdWatch blog
By Andrew Ujifusa
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has officially become the 16th candidate to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016. He doesn’t have the kind of high-profile and polarizing history with public schools that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker can claim. But his work in K-12 policy is actually quite extensive. Let’s take a look.
Time in Congress
From 1983 until 2001, Kasich served in the U.S. House of Representatives. He had a record as a fiscal hawk who wanted to limit spending growth, and that record extended to education.
Back in 1990, for example, during a debate about whether to transfer funding from the U.S. Department of Defense to the Education Department for the fiscal 1991 budget, Kasich proposed freezing all federal spending at fiscal 1990 levels. (That proposal was defeated).
And in 1995, as chairman of the House budget committee, he also shepherded through a budget that cut education spending by $10 billion in fiscal 1996.
Foreshadowing his future support for vouchers as governor of Ohio, Kasich came out in favor of the private-school choice program during a 1999 House budget panel hearing about vouchers that involved a future opponent of Kasich’s in the 2016 race, Jeb Bush. In addition to vouchers, Bush also touted the state’s A-F accountability system at the hearing (more on that below).
Kasich’s K-12 Work as Governor
When he ran to be Ohio’s governor in 2010 against incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, Kasich said he would ditch a newly adopted school finance formula that would have increased state aid to schools over time. Arguing that the state’s then-model for funding schools put too much burden on schools, Kasich said: "[P]utting money into bureaucracy is not the ticket. It’s dollars in the classroom.”
Perhaps the biggest splash Kasich tried to make when he took over as Buckeye State governor was with Senate Bill 5, which he signed into law in 2011, but which was struck down by voters later the same year. That law would have stripped teachers and other public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights. But Issue 2 was defeated at the ballot box after vigorous pushback from the Ohio Education Association and others.
One of Kasich’s rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, signed similar legislation into law, also in 2011.
Kasich has also pushed, successfully, to increase spending on public schools as governor. As I wrote about in 2013, he approved a state aid increase for schools totaling $1.2 billion schools in the 2013-15 biennial budget. Part of that money was earmarked for equalizing wealth gaps between rich and poor districts, an effort he’s continued to push this year.
However, the “Achievement Everywhere” package for K-12 spending boosts in 2013 also included $300 million to reward districts for innovative learning strategies. He also successfully pushed an expansion of the state’s voucher program that year. And he also signed a new A-F accountability system for schools into law in 2013, a measure he supported before lawmakers approved it.
As for the Common Core State Standards? Kasich, like Bush, has continued to support the standards despite growing opposition among Ohio Republicans. He did, however, sign a budget that killed the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career exam that’s aligned to the standards. Ohio gave the test during the past school year.
Charter Ups and Downs
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 has been a vocal supporter of charters during his tenure. In both his 2013-15 and 2015-17 budgets, the governor made expanding state aid for charter school facility costs a top priority.
However, my coworker Arianna Prothero has extensively covered problems in Ohio’s charter school sector during Kasich’s time as governor. Last year, for example, a study of Ohio charter schools’ performance found their students to lag behind their counterparts in traditional public schools. The FBI, as well as the state, have investigated charter schools in the state. And lawmakers this year have tried to beef up oversight of Ohio charters— but those efforts have been unsuccessful.
And there’s one more piece of not-so-hot political news for Kasich when it comes to charters. David Hansen, the head of the school choice division of the Ohio education department, resigned on July 18 after admitting that he improperly boosted what would have otherwise been failing grades for charter schools when evaluating their sponsors. Hansen is married to Kasich’s chief of staff, Beth Hansen, who is expected to work for Kasich’s presidential campaign.
Photo: Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks to an audience at a restaurant on May 6, in Nashua, N.H. Kasich, a two-term Ohio governor and former member of the U.S. House, is one of the lesser-known Republicans considering a White House bid. Steven Senne/AP