School funding in Ohio needs to address the digital divide

If you are reading this, more than likely you have internet access. In fact, you probably take it for granted. Not so in many of the homes with doors I knock on to campaign for the Dayton City Commission. Using Google to look things up, or email to communicate is as foreign to them as airplanes were to the caveman. While Dayton Public Schools was considering a “bring your technology to school” program to allow kids to bring netbooks, tablets, laptops and e-readers to school, the elephant in the room was that some kids are lucky to have shoes to wear to school.

Governor Kasich just pulled yet another fast one in his new school funding plan. He made sure to provide a way to send public money to private schools (of course, only when those schools weren’t doing their jobs) but he didn’t take the much needed step to make sure every student has equal access to the technology (and increasingly- teach-knowlegly) that is essential to doing anything remotely resembling a job in today’s society.

Kasich proposed several new programs outside the school-funding formula, including $300 million in one-time grants for innovations that lead to cost-reductions.

The voucher program would provide $8.5 million in fiscal year 2014 and $17 million in fiscal year 2015 from a separate fund and would not be deducted from school districts. Students in households below 200 percent of federal poverty level — a family of four making $46,100 or less in 2012 — would be eligible.

Students entering kindergarten would be eligible in the first year and the program would expand to first grade and kindergarten in 2014-15. Vouchers would also be offered to students in schools that fail to pass third-graders who read at grade level.

The vouchers would be paid from a separate fund and would not be deducted from school districts.

Currently, Ohio offers private school vouchers to students attending chronically low-performing schools through the EdChoice program. EdChoice vouchers cover $4,250 for elementary and middle school students and $5,000 for high school students, a portion of what public schools receive per student.


If the Governor really wants to see “Achievement Everywhere” it’s time to address this basic fundamental of a modern education- access to the internet and a device to take advantage of it are essential. And, while we’re at it, we also need to realize that what we consider “high-speed internet” is still woefully slow, even where people do have U-verse or FIOS, we are still virtual snails compared to what the people of South Korea are using. And when it comes to rural Ohio- where the only “high speed” option is typically a data capped cell phone connection, we’re still in the stone age.

The value of universally accessible high speed internet to Ohio’s students with devices capable of providing a rich internet experience is as essential, if not more important than teachers with Masters degrees or even current textbooks. We live in a day when those of us with an internet connection can teach ourselves anything from multiplication to string theory physics by utilizing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) taught by the leading thinkers in almost any subject. Grant the ability of every Ohio student to access these, and maybe we will find that “school funding” in the traditional sense wasn’t the real issue at all. The lawsuit demanding equal funding was caused by the inequity of taxes between rich and poor districts- which is also the difference between rich and poor homes. If we make sure the poor homes have equal access to the global repository of knowledge, we may start seeing a leveling of the educational playing field.

And before any of you start talking about how the poor kids’ parents will sell off their kids’ computers for crack, when these computers are bought in the same quantities as textbooks, we’ll have huge cost savings via purchasing power, the computers will be trackable, and lastly, they will save us potentially billions in paper, mailings, and textbook purchases very quickly. As a side benefit, you and I may actually see a huge drop in the cost of Internet access and an increase in speeds as Ohio spans the digital divide and moves into modern times.


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