Representative John Patterson on Schools

As you well know, transportation costs are a key component of any school budget.  Depending upon the district, transportation costs can have marginal impact on a school’s finances, or, for districts such as Morgan Local, such costs can consume up to 15% of an entire budget.

Is it a district’s fault that transportation costs make up such a high percentage of a school budget?  Have such district’s been lax in their approach to appropriate resource allocations?  Should a district effectively be penalized for having few students scattered over many miles, on the backroads or in the hollers?  What is the proper relationship between population density, effective bus routing, and resource allocation?

This amendment seeks to restore the state/local funding partnership for transportation as it was prior to the current executive and now House budget proposal.  But we should also keep in mind that even should we adopt this amendment, very few districts will be able to afford new bus purchases.  What makes this even more challenging is that our collective fleet is aging and, as such, we know that in due course aging buses cost more in terms of maintenance than new buses.  Fuel costs are higher in buses manufactured prior to the last decade as technology has doubled efficiency from approximately 4 gallons a mile to 8.  Quite simply, schools could save money through efficiency alone if the state could assist them in the purchase of new buses thus freeing up more money to be used even more efficiently.  We would do well to remember that once upon a time, the state DID enjoin districts for the purpose of  new buses.

Though this amendment does not specifically direct funds for the purchase of new buses, it would give additional assistance within the context of the various components of school budgets so as to allocate precious resources with greater dexterity.  Quite frankly, difficult choices lay ahead for many districts with shrinking resources coupled with increased transportation costs due, in part, to their aging fleets.

As to the bill currently before us and with an eye focused on the future of Ohio, I am deeply troubled.  As I contemplate the current state of our schools, the fiscal health of our state, and the sense of frustration and hopelessness in the minds and hearts of our citizens, I continue to wander back to a passage that we should fully seek to unpack.  It is a simple passage with a haunting message:  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  To be sure, this statement was not made with reference to public schools, state fiscal policy, or education in general, but in many ways it does reflect our priorities.

A quick perusal of previous budgets will reveal a reflection of our treasure.  We have cut taxes, primarily for the wealthy, shifted the burden of funding our schools from the state to our local districts, all the while shirking from our constitutional and moral obligation to provide a thorough and efficient education for our students.  To further add yet another layer of stress, we have also mandated that our schools be proficient and grade them as to their success in the midst of declining support.  And now, when we are on the verge of a recession, we have created additional burdens on our schools, our communities, our teachers, and our students through a budget that creates winners and losers.  Shouldn’t our hearts and our treasure be with ALL of our students, our teachers, and their schools and communities—and not just those whose circumstances benefit them in the existing formula?  Is it any wonder that there exists feelings of frustration, or despair, of hopelessness in the minds and hearts of our people?  Mr. Speaker this must stop.

At times I have been criticized for being an eternal optimist.  That charge is quite true—one must be eternally optimistic on this side of the aisle, but greater than that, I do believe in that which is eternal and, as such, I stand ready to begin the work of putting our treasure where our heart is with respect to the next state budget.

We have a once in a generation, no, perhaps once in a lifetime chance to get this right for in our midst of this current crisis is present the confluence of two great factors which afford us this opportunity.

First, with the move away from Common Core and the recent alterations to the Every Students Succeeds Act, we have the opportunity to chart a new course, a new direction, and a new destiny for Ohio’s schools.  We have more freedom to exert more local control, more freedom to actually teach as opposed to teaching to a test, and more freedom to create an atmosphere, an attitude, a culture of success in our schools.  But as you know, freedom isn’t free.  If we choose this pathway, and I hope we do, it will come at a price.  It will come as an investment.  But it will reflect our heart as evidenced by our treasure

The Joint Committee on Education Oversight heard testimony recently which compared the similarities of high performing nations with respect to education.  The United States, Ohio included, did not match up well in comparison.  But it does not need to be that way.  In the interests of time, I will not fully summarize our hearing, but I will state that I believe with all my heart that we, in Ohio, can help to create a world-class educational system if we are willing to change our hearts, believe in our destiny, and remain steadfast in our determination to succeed.  There are a number of us who are committed to that goal and we ask you to join us.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.  The time couldn’t be more right.  And failure is not an option.

But at the very heart of this issue stands this all-consuming question:  what is the purpose of education?  The purpose of education….

I would suggest, in brief, that the purpose of education is three-fold.  First, we must educate to prepare a new generation to enter the workforce.  This, of course, is an on-going need and one that must be altered as technology and demographics merge to form new possibilities.  A trained workforce is absolutely critical for the sustenance and growth of business and industry and with it, economic vitality.  Second, we must educate to encourage the full development of the human potential.  Our schools are the laboratories where students can discover what their unique calling might be—or not—which can be helpful, too, in their quest to find self-actualization.  In high school, I did take boys’ home-ec.  Though I am still lacking terribly in food preparation, I DID find out that a career in such a field was not my calling.  As life is so short, is it not incumbent upon us to fund our schools so that such life enhancing courses can be offered for the benefit of our students and with that, our greater society?  Finally, education is critical for the preservation of democracy itself.  In my study at home I have a copy of a handbill announcing a meeting for Joshua Reed Giddings—a resident of Jefferson and a giant within the early Republican Party.  It reads, in part, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”  To be sure, there can be no liberty without vigilance and there can be no vigilance but for an educated populace.  Adequate and equitable school funding is absolutely essential for the liberty, which we hold dear, to remain as a self-evident truth.  The two are inextricably linked in concept and practice. Our very future depends on it.

Therefore, with full knowledge that a number of schools in my district will receive significantly less funding as a result of this budget, I, too, am frustrated and feel the pain of my people.  We all share in this pain.  Yet through the tribulation I offer hope—and an extended hand.  In the time we have left in this 132nd General Assembly, let us work together to arrive at a school funding formula that not only meets Constitutional muster, but one that helps our students: to develop their skills necessary for successful and meaningful employment; to enhance and support  their natural curiosity with respect to life learning; and to encourage their interest in, respect for, and obligation to, our great American democratic experience.

The results of our efforts will undoubtedly match the depths of our sacrifice.  The road will not be easy.  The pathway will not be smooth.  But we must not shirk from this duty.  We must put our treasure where our heart is—and we have no time to waste.

In the final analysis, I will vote for this budget bill today, but I ask you to join me to support an enhanced system of education in the tomorrows that follow.  This, my colleagues, is not only our duty and calling, but it is the moonshot of our time and I, for one, stand ready for this mission.

John Patterson
Representative 99th District