Is someone finally listening?

By Tom Dunn - Contributing columnist

In the world of education, the phrase “unfunded mandates” has become a common term that has a very negative connotation. What it means, quite simply, is that the Ohio legislature, and in some cases even the federal government, requires school personnel to perform certain tasks without regard for the additional costs they require to implement or their effectiveness. As the term “unfunded mandates” suggests, most of the discussions focus on the financial strain they impose upon school districts, given the fact that the legislature rarely provides the funds necessary to satisfy their demands. But the drain on human resources is just is problematic.

As a school administrator myself, it would not be a stretch to say that one-third to one-half of my time is wasted on doing work that has little value and must be done solely to satisfy ill-fated, poorly conceived laws. It is almost as if it has been a legislative goal to place as many obstacles as possible in our way that make educating children more difficult than it should be.

Because of this trend, for as long as I can remember, educators have been begging legislators to stop enacting laws that make no sense while also asking them to eliminate laws they have already enacted about which the same can be said. However, for the most part, our pleas have been ignored. In fact, I’m not sure there is a time in history when there has been more unwanted and unnecessary political intrusion into education. But, there may be hope on the horizon.

Senator Matt Huffman from Lima has proposed a new bill, referred to as the “Public School Deregulation Bill,” or Senate Bill 216. With input from educators from his region, Senator Huffman has identified one hundred expectations the legislature has placed upon educators that he himself says, “…take up an absurd amount of teacher and administrator time and labor, which could be used more appropriately to deliver quality education to Ohio’s children.” He couldn’t be more correct.

Think about that for a minute. Senator Huffman has identified ONE HUNDRED mandates that he admits could go away tomorrow, and it would be beneficial for the children attending public schools in Ohio. ONE HUNDRED of them! Sadly, that is just the tip of the iceberg.

I will be the first to admit that, as an appropriately cynical old man, I am leery of any new legislation that we are told will fix old legislation that the lawmakers have previously implemented. Experience has taught me that there is usually a hidden agenda somewhere in the proposal, especially when legislators can say their bill was created “with input from educators.” However, even if this new proposal isn’t everything it appears to be, one would have to be a fool not to support any proposal that eliminates costly and useless laws. That is why all of the public school superintendents in Miami County support Senator Huffman’s proposal.

Normally, when a bill like this is proposed, the legislature adopts the indefensible position that it only applies to districts it views as successful based on the invalid school district report card data they have created. Districts with a higher percentage of struggling students are still required to waste their time trying to implement the bill. This makes no sense. Why would the legislature impose upon any school district expectations that “take up an absurd amount of teacher and administrator time” and are unsuccessful in solving the problems we face? If deregulating education is Senator Huffman’s real goal, these one hundred expectations should disappear for every school district in Ohio, not just the ones legislators think are doing a good job.

I have also seen similar deregulation bills previously proposed that have quietly been permitted to die on the vine, because legislative leaders happen to disagree with them. The fact is, new laws seldom see the light of day unless leadership wants them to. We’ll see if that happens with this bill.

I have long maintained that there should be a moratorium on any new educational legislation, except when new legislation eliminates ill-conceived old legislation. Senator Huffman’s proposal, at least at face value, appears to be a step in the right direction. Let’s hope so.

By Tom Dunn

Contributing columnist

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.