School is back in session for state of Ohio

Published 10:06 am Thursday, September 10, 2009

School is back in session for thousands of Ohio students, and the next few weeks will be an exciting, but important time as they get acclimated to a new classroom, new teachers and a higher level of coursework.

While we are blessed to have many talented, dedicated educators in our local school districts, and the state has continued a long-term commitment to update school facilities and strengthen curriculum standards, these efforts can only go so far. It is also critical that parents and guardians stay involved with their children’s education.

Most students work hard, and they will work even harder if they know someone is paying attention and values their education. For other kids, a parent’s involvement could be the difference between a passing grade and a failing grade. Teachers can help a child reach his or her full potential, but it takes teamwork from the family, the student, the school and the community.

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I have learned over the years with my two sons that it is good to ask questions and compare notes with other parents about particular subjects and activities. Most teachers have telephones in their offices or classrooms and appreciate parents showing interest in what their child is learning, how they are doing and where they can improve. Parents also have a right to ask questions if they have concerns about a specific rule, decision or other issue at the school.

Education is not nearly the same as it was when many of us were kids. Not so long ago, personal computers were non existent. Now, they are an essential tool in many classrooms. In addition, as our economy becomes more competitive, students today are being challenged to learn more at an earlier age to prepare for work or college. The average person will have to change jobs several times in their working life, and it is important that they have the skills to adapt to those changes.

All school districts in Ohio also receive grade cards to benchmark how students are performing. Many districts have shown significant improvement. However, in analyzing the effectiveness of each district, it is important to consider that every student in every school is unique. They have different learning styles, different life experiences and different levels of support at home.

As you may recall, Governor Strickland’s evidence-based school funding model includes a number of new requirements for local school districts. Very few of these changes, however, will take effect during this school year.

For example, I have heard from many teachers, administrators, students and parents about the Governor’s proposal to reduce the number of calamity days from five to three that the state allows school districts to take before having to make the time up. This change is not scheduled to happen until the 2010-2011 academic year.

The Governor’s education budget also calls for a transition from the Ohio Graduation Test to the ACT. However, this switch cannot take place until the State Superintendent reviews the policy and makes recommendations to the General Assembly on a timeline for implementing the new tests.

The Governor’s school funding plan presents a tremendous challenge, because it implements more mandates on schools in the future, but does not identify a source of additional dollars to help our local districts pay for these changes. When you subtract one-time federal stimulus dollars from the equation, many schools will actually see a slight cut in their state funding over the next two years. I still cannot understand how some special interest groups can look at the Governor’s plan and say that school funding is now solved.

The bottom line is that students across Ohio are still going to school every morning, and it is critical that they not only have support from their teachers, but their school, their community, and most importantly, their family. There is still much more work left to do to improve Ohio’s school funding system, but I am confident that the Legislature and the Governor will continue to make progress in this area, because despite our differences, we all share a common focus on bettering Ohio’s schools and preparing our young people to succeed in the classroom and in life.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.