School rule change means local control

Taxpayers sometimes join public school officials in complaining that state and federal mandates give local educators little or no flexibility. Yet suggest one of those requirements be eliminated and it will be only a matter of time before a great hue and cry against such change is heard.

Ohio Board of Education members are being targeted by such protest because they are thinking of eliminating the state’s “5 of 8 rule.” It requires that school districts have five employees out of eight specified categories for every 1,000 students. The categories are elementary school art teachers, music teachers, physical education teachers, librarians, counselors, social workers, nurses and teachers who can visit students’ homes.

During a state board meeting this week, opponents of the proposal suggested it will prompt many school districts to cut back on the number of employees in those categories. That could lead to eliminating programs such as art and music in elementary schools.

Indeed it could have that result.

An art teacher from the Howland School District pointed out that while academic excellence is demanded of Ohio’s students, state officials propose taking away arts when there is evidence that kids taking art classes are doing better on achievement tests. Those classes, she said, teach motor skills, cultural awareness and innovation.

We believe that likely is true.

However, we also believe that eliminating the mandate simply gives the right to decide about the future of such classes to the voters who reside in the school districts. It takes the matter out of the hands of state officials who have long been accused of imposing unfunded mandates.

If voters who elect local board of education members want certain programs in their schools and taxpayers are willing to pay for them, the offerings will be retained. It is that simple.

For too long, state and federal education requirements have been focused on inputs – that is, requiring certain amounts of money be spent and certain types of personnel be employed. That has lessened local school officials and educators’ ability to emphasize what matters – results in the form of well-educated children.

Restoring flexibility through actions such as rescinding the “5 of 8 rule” would be a step in the right direction.