For the past month, Romney-Ryan and crew have been busy accusing President Obama of eliminating welfare-to-work requirements. You can hardly miss the campaign commercials that claim Obama has taken the “work” out of welfare reform. But what we haven’t heard is that state officials in Columbus are getting squeezed by the Obama Administration because Ohio failed to move enough people off public assistance programs into real jobs. The feds contend the state has mismanaged welfare reform since 2007.
It is former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration getting blame for not being aggressive with the work component. Now Ohio is desperately trying to dodge $136.2 million in penalties for failing to shift welfare recipients into the workforce. Next week, Republican Gov. John Kasich’s administration plans to spend nearly $500,000 on a consultant to help clean up Ohio’s mess. Public Consulting Group Inc. of Boston is in line to get the $499,642 contract. That company says the welfare to work reforms suggested by the Obama Administration in July — the waivers denounced by Romney-Ryan — could actually help get more people off assistance and into jobs.
Here’s language straight from the Kasich Administration’s request to hire the Boston consulting firm:
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Administration for Children and Families (ACF), notified Ohio of its
failure to meet the performance threshold of fifty percent (all
families) and ninety percent (two parent families) for TANF work
participation for FFY’s 2007, 2008, and 2009. These
notifications carried potential penalties of $32,758,572 for FFY 2007,
$45,050,074 for FFY 2008 and $58,517,487 for FFY 2009. Ohio’s current
corrective compliance will require Ohio to completely correct the
violation by meeting the work participation threshold during the current
FFY 2012. Failure to do so will result in a reduction of Ohio’s State
Family Assistance Grant (i.e. TANF) of $32,758,872 …”
State officials said the consultant would do analysis to increase work participation rates “in accordance with federal requirements.” Nobody is suggesting that work participation requirements be ended.
The consulting firm says it knows how to help a state win a waiver, which is an alternative way to assist TANF recipients into the workforce. The waivers are what Romney and Ryan have denounced as killing welfare reform. (So far, Ohio hasn’t asked the consultant directly to develop a waiver plan.) But the consultant Ohio is hiring is clear that waivers don’t end work requirements and they could actually help achieve better employment outcomes.
“The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) recently issued a challenge for states to develop and test new and innovative strategies that will improve employment outcomes in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program,” the consulting firm says. It sees the change as opening up “thoughtful and innovative approaches that connect TANF participants to jobs in a more effective and less administratively burdensome way.”
Again, the consultant being hired by the Republicans at the Statehouse in Columbus doesn’t say Obama is gutting welfare reform. The consultant says, “The waiver authority specifically allows states to test new ways of helping achieve better employment outcomes within the TANF program by offering flexibility on how work requirements and work participation are defined, administered and measured.”
The tougher reading standards could potentially hold back 12 percent of Ohio third-graders, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
With the new rules, kids would be tested every year starting in Kindergarten. Any kids who are below standards would receive special tutoring, and any who fail to improve to “proficient” or above by the time of the third-grade reading test would be held back.
Similar standards were passed in Florida a decade ago. While it was rough at first with 13 percent of third-graders in Florida being held back, scores have begun improving, Patricia Levesque, former education advisor to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, told The Dispatch.
However, research shows holding kids back hurts them more than helps. After reviewing decades of research, the National Association of School Psychologists found that grade retention has “deleterious long-term effects,” both academically and socially.
Kasich has also proposed tougher grading standards for schools and districts, which he hopes will hold schools more accountable.
Republican critics don’t necessarily oppose all the reforms, but they would like to see the reforms implemented more carefully and slowly. School officials, state education groups and teachers unions have repeatedly asked for more time to tell parents and teachers about the upcoming changes.
The news comes at a time when states around the country are moving to enact education reform after years of disappointment. In 2010, the U.S. fell to a rating of “average” in the international rankings released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. ranked No. 14 out of 34 OECD countries in reading, No. 17 for science and a below-average No. 25 for math.
One bright spot was found earlier this year when a report showed U.S. high school graduation rates had increased to 75.5 percent in 2009, up from 72 percent in 2001.
President Barack Obama has tried to encourage widespread education reform with his “Race to the Top” initiative. The program pushes states to compete for funds with education reform plans. The states with the best programs are then rewarded federal funds as they implement reform.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland won funds for Ohio with his reform plan, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan congratulated Ohio for being on schedule with reforms earlier this year.
The Ohio Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit against Gov. John Kasich — who they claim is improperly using his office to campaign for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — to get the governor to release his schedule of public events.
The ODP’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, contends that Kasich’s office either ignored or only partially fulfilled the request.
“It’s unfortunate that this Governor is so opposed to transparency and public disclosure that we have to ask the Court to force him to follow the law,” ODP Chairman Chris Redfern said in a statement.
“Serious questions remain regarding whether the Governor has improperly used his office for the benefit of Mitt Romney, and it’s deeply disappointing Kasich is so secretive he won’t even tell the public what he’s done or where he’s gone.”
Kasich press secretary Rob Nichols said the administration doesn’t comment on litigation, but dismissed the Ohio Democratic Party’s allegations.
“We release public records in accordance with the law, and in fact have already publicly released the governor’s schedule six times, including a schedule request to the ODP,” Nichols said.
“This is predictable election year politics from the same people who were just rebuked for using public records demands to interfere with the Auditor of State’s investigation into possible data manipulation in some school districts.”
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jerid Kurtz said Kasich’s office did respond to one of the seven requests for the schedule, but some of the information in the records was redacted — including an entire week that was blacked out with no explanation.
“Ohio law is very clear, and it states you have to give a specific excuse when you redact something,” Kurtz said.
According to the lawsuit and court documents, the ODP requested on July 2 Kasich’s public schedule from that date through Aug. 27.
According to a letter to the Ohio Democratic Party from Mehek M. Cook — assistant chief counsel to Kasich — the information about the governor's future plans was blacked out because that information could put him at risk.
“The governor and his office receive threats on any given day and the release of his whereabouts increases security issues surrounding the governor’s safety,” Cook wrote.
Cook wrote that any information in the records used by the Executive Protection Unit assigned to guard Kasich constitutes a security record and was redacted.
He also wrote that some information that would reveal confidential business meetings and trade secrets that would harm Ohio efforts to court businesses was blacked out. Additionally, information not relevant to the request was redacted.
Kurtz said it’s important that the public have access those schedules because voters have a right to know what their governor is doing on the public dime.
The schedules include where the governor is and with whom he meets, but they also show scheduled phone calls and media interviews.
The Ohio Democratic Party worries that Kasich is improperly campaigning for Romney while receiving a taxpayer-funded paycheck, or using public money to have his staff do so.
The concerns stem from statements made by Kasich both in public and on his Twitter account either praising the presumed Republican presidential nominee or slamming President Obama.
For instance, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported that when Obama visited Ohio on Aug. 1 the governor tweeted “On the occasion of the President's latest visit to Ohio, we have a question for him,” with a link to a graphic asking “If the President's policies are behind Ohio's success, why is the rest of the country trailing us?”
Democrats claim that Ohio’s success relative to the rest of the country are due to efforts by President Obama, while Republicans say Governor Kasich is behind Ohio’s faster-than-average recovery.
While the Ohio Democratic Party is suing to have Kasich release his public schedule (Kurtz says Attorney General Mike DeWine and Auditor Dave Yost complied with similar requests in a timely manner) the state Republican Party has also submitted similar requests to Democrats throughout Ohio.
Kurtz characterized the GOP requests as being sent by Kasich’s “hand-picked lieutenants in the Ohio Republican Party,” though Nichols told The Plain Dealer that the governor had no involvement.
Ohio GOP executive director Matt Borges told the newspaper that the requests were routine.
Still, Kurtz called Kasich’s refusal to release his own schedule “hypocritical.”
“He’s a bully and the only way you can deal with a bully is fighting back.”
Speaking in front of Ohio school administrators Thursday, Gov. John Kasich unveiled a surprisingly progressive-sounding education reform plan that seeks to diminish school funding inequality, but it also expands Ohio’s flawed voucher program.
Kasich said the plan will not cut any school district’s funding, but it will work to reduce gaps between the wealthy and poor. Currently, the poorest school district can get $700 to $800 per pupil for 20 mills of property taxes, while the wealthiest districts can get as much as $14,000 per pupil. The plan will eliminate much of that gap, according to Kasich.
Kasich’s plan will open up extra funding for students with severe disabilities and students who need to learn English, on top of a $300 million “innovation fund” that will reward schools with grants for initiatives that improve learning and teaching.
The plan will also expand the state’s voucher program to provide private school tuition for any family below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — about $46,000 for a family of four. The vouchers, which will become available in the fall, will be worth up to $4,250 a year. Parents will be allowed to choose between participating voucher schools.
But the expansion of “school choice” through more vouchers may not be a good thing. A previous Policy Matters Ohio report found expanded school choice can have negative effects on education, including worse results for students and teachers.
Kasich justified his proposals by claiming, “The Lord is watching us as we make an effort to give our children the knowledge that they want in order to be successful and to pursue their God-given destinies.”
He also said the program is fully funded, which was made possible by extra revenue gained from Ohio’s economic rebound.
On judging his proposals, Kasich said, “We need to think about this not in isolation. We need to think about this over the course of the last couple years.”
Taking the governor at his request, his administration actually signed off on education cuts in the past couple years. Cuts Hurt Ohio, a website that tracks budget cuts enacted by Kasich, shows funding to education was cut statewide by $1.8 billion. For Hamilton County, $117 million in education funding was cut.
Kasich also helped push a few education initiatives through the Ohio legislature. During the press conference, he cited his Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, which forces schools to hold back students who aren’t “proficient” in reading. Kasich also pointed to the new school report cards, which use an A-to-F grading system to give more transparency to parents and enforce higher standards for schools.
The plan will require approval from the Ohio legislature to become law. It also may face scrutiny from courts; the Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled the state's school funding system relies too much on local property taxes.
A new website called Cuts Hurt Ohio shows the impact of the state government slashing budgets. It gives a glimpse into how each county has been affected by cuts in education and local government aid programs.
For Hamilton County, the website shows cuts of $241 million in
the 2012-2013 budget. Education funds in Hamilton County were cut by a
total of $136 million, while other funds have been slashed by $105
million. The website also reports budget-related news headlines for
Hamilton County: “Cincinnati superintendent salary to be cut in half,”
“Townships may not have any police presence when they lose sheriff
patrols” and “Report: Children services in Cincinnati stretched.”
For all of Ohio, cuts total $2.88 billion. Education programs were cut by $1.8 billion statewide, and aid provided to local governments was reduced by $1.08 billion.
Innovation Ohio and Policy Matters Ohio opened created the website to raise awareness and show the differences between former Gov. Ted Strickland’s 2010-2011 budget and Gov. John Kasich’s 2012-2013 budget. The numbers are based on data provided by the Ohio Department of Taxation and Ohio Department of Education.
Since some cuts are due to the loss of federal stimulus funds, not all the cuts are directly linked to the state government slashing its budget. But the 2012-2013 budget will pull funding to the Ohio Department of Education down to $9.8 billion in the 2013 fiscal year, which is lower than the amount of funding education received before Ohio obtained federal stimulus dollars.
To check out the website, go to www.cutshurtohio.com.
Fresh from a successful effort at stopping a budget amendment to block the replacement of a deteriorating Cincinnati bridge, State Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-31st District) will hold a town hall meeting to discuss the Ohio budget with constituents.
Driehaus marshaled forces in the Ohio House this week after she noticed an amendment that affected the $66.5 million project had quietly been added to the state budget bill by State Rep. Bob Peterson (R-85thDistrict).
Ohio Gov. John Kasich yesterday delivered his second “State of the State” speech, a reportedly hilarious mockery of political tradition that ranged from harmlessly wacky to straight-up sexist, while making a pit stop in the “Parkinson’s disease is funny” category.
Kasich’s apparent intention was to announce a new broadband plan, introduce an award honoring courageous Ohioans and try to say that his plans for shale drilling in the Northeastern part of the state are totally going to respect the environment.
But the 90-minute speech in a Steubenville elementary school auditorium included far more Kasich bloopers than usual. The Enquirer included in the first paragraph of its recap Kasich’s references to “non-bluetongue cows going to Turkey” and “a dream about Jerry Seinfeld in the back seat of a car.” The AP described the speech as “peppered with Kasich's usual array of off-the-cuff, sometimes puzzling remarks.”
Those familiar with Kasich’s governing style will find these descriptions to be only slightly surprising. Remember last January when he called a police officer an “idiot” in a speech for giving him a speeding ticket? Or when he mocked Ohio’s drivers license for being pink (PINK IS SO GAY!)? Or that time he told a group of business owners that he wanted to make Ohio cool because the executives at LexisNexis said all their employees would rather live on the coasts instead of sucky-ass Ohio?
Tea party activists are working to gather the 380,000 signatures needed to get the Ohio Workplace Freedom Act on the ballot. They have until July 3.
The Michigan House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the first of two right-to-work bills, both of which were passed by the state Senate last week. Gov. Rick Snyder has told multiple media outlets that he could sign the bills as early as Wednesday.
Michigan would be the 24th right-to-work state in the nation and the second in the Midwest. Indiana passed a similar law earlier this year.
Members of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus wore red carnations — Ohio’s state flower and a symbol of the labor movement — at the Statehouse Tuesday to show support for Michigan workers.
“Put simply, so called ‘right to work’ is wrong. Statistics show states with this anti-working family legislation have lower wages and higher poverty rates,” Ohio state Rep. Connie Pillich, D-Montgomery, wrote in an emailed statement.
“We will continue to stand together and fight against these unfair attacks on workers in Ohio, Michigan and across the country.”
Despite the effort to put a right-to-work law on the ballot next year — a similar effort was unsuccessful in 2012 — it doesn’t seem like Ohio is in any rush to join Michigan and Indiana.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has higher priorities than passing a right-to-work law. The newspaper reports that Ohio added 127,000 jobs in the past two years and ranks fourth nationally and first in the Midwest in terms of job creation.
Kasich said the agenda for the last two years of his first term include tax cuts, an education overhaul and infrastructure improvement to keep the state competitive.
“I have an agenda that I think is going to benefit the state of Ohio,” Kasich told the newspaper. “We’re doing very well vis-a-vis the rest of the country now, and I think if we continue to pursue the agenda I have and the legislature has, I think we’ll continue to be successful.”
FUN FACT: Michigan's right-to-work bill will be signed into law in the Romney Building. George Romney, former Michigan governor and father of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was an opponent of right-to-work laws.
Outgoing Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis is retiring after his current term and Jim Neil will replace him on Jan. 6, 2013, but that doesn’t mean Leis is done with public life.
The lawman best known for the raid of the Contemporary Arts Center over an allegedly obscene Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit and his prosecution of pornographer Larry Flynt will begin serving as a visiting judge in 2013, according to letters first published by The Enquirer.
Before being appointed sheriff, Leis served as a Hamilton County Common Pleas judge from 1982 to 1987. Prior to that he was Hamilton County prosecutor for 12 years.
The letters dated May 1, 2012 and Oct. 22, 2012 indicate that Leis wrote Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to let her know he was retiring and was interested in being assigned as a visiting judge.
Visiting judges are in charge of all of the cases other judges are assigned but can’t get to due to full dockets. Leis will be paid the standard visiting judge rate of $60.68 per hour.
Since Leis last served as judge 25 years ago, O’Connor is requiring him to shadow another judge for a day or so to get back up to speed. Leis has kept his law license current since becoming sheriff.