Kasich Wants $300 Million School Grants Similar to Obama’s

Ohio Governor John Kasich is proposing a $300 million program that resembles President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top plan by allowing schools to apply for grants to fund innovative ideas.

The initiative, which the first-term Republican calls the “Straight-A Fund,” is part of an education plan that he described today in Columbus. It’s part of the two-year state budget proposal he is to release Feb. 1.

“It’s going to allow you to take chances to be able to innovate, to be able to remake your schools,” Kasich said in a presentation to Ohio administrators today.

Schools would apply for one-time grants evaluated by an independent entity to pay for ideas to increase achievement, modernize operations and reduce costs, Richard Ross, Kasich’s lead education adviser, said in a conference call with reporters today.

Kasich’s plan is different than the federal $5 billion Race to the Top, which lets states that implement specific policy changes compete for money, Ross said. Ohio’s plan would require that changes be sustainable and doesn’t dictate other actions, he said.

“We want the best ideas to bubble up from our districts, not be forced down from the top,” said Barbara Mattei-Smith, Kasich’s assistant policy director for education.

On Hold

New York, New Jersey and other states have offered similar competitive grant programs for schools in the past, though not in recent years because of the economic downturn, said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators in Washington.

Still, superintendents would rather have education dollars distributed according to a formula, Domenech said in a telephone interview.

“When you do competitive grants, only a few get the dollars and the majority of the districts don’t,” Domenech said.

Besides creating the grant fund, Kasich said his plan would address disparities in wealth across districts, as well as provide additional money for poor areas and for disabled and gifted students.

The governor’s proposal also calls for offering vouchers for students in kindergarten or first grade to attend private school if their family’s income falls below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or $46,100 a year for a family of four.

The plan would guarantee that each district receives at least as much state funding in the coming two-year budget as in the previous two years, Kasich said.

Kasich reduced funding in the current budget, prompting schools to seek $1.1 billion in local tax levies since May 2011 to keep staff and programs, according to a Jan. 29 report by Innovation Ohio, a nonprofit led by Janetta King, a former aide to ex-Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat.

The legislature must pass a spending plan by June 30.