In 2010, The Nord Family Foundation provided support for the Ohio Grantmakers Forum’s (OGF) education initiative making this the third year for such support. Trustees were provided a detailed report on the role The Nord Family Foundation played in participating in the state-wide stakeholders meetings which resulted in the 2009 publication of, Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come.
In 2010, OGF has taken a very active role in working with the Governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) in order to secure a potential $400 million in Race to the Top (RTT) funding from the Federal Government.
Ohio was not selected in the first round of applicants for the highly competitive Race to the Top competition. When the initial request for proposals (RFP) came out, OGF urged ODE to conduct more outreach and stakeholder involvement and encouraged ODE to make use of the working group teams that had already been assembled for Beyond Tinkering. ODE made a decision to go it alone.
The first-round application process was not transparent. Members of the State Legislature asked to see drafts, but this request was denied. Not surprising, this alienated many in the State Legislature especially from the Republican minority whose endorsement was required by the Feds. ODE found the process overwhelming given the short timeline. Its effort to “manage” the process was disastrous. Ohio went into the competition in Washington in fourth place, based on preliminary criteria. After the March 2010 presentation in DC, Ohio went from 4th to 10th place among 16 competing states. Even a phone call from President Obama’s office to put this important swing state into priority was ignored. It was that bad.
ODE and the Governor’s office justified the lack of transparency claiming they were worried about information leaking out because it was a competitive process. Quite frankly, this is the way they do business at ODE. The legislature, Governor’s office and the ODE had a field day of finger –pointing.
At this point, OGF once again offered assistance to the Governor’s office stating that without its expertise they would not be successful in Round 2. The Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation, KnowledgeWorks and Martha Holden Jennings Foundations pooled funds allowing OGF to hire a consultant whose prior experience was with the Tennessee RTT application (Tennessee was one of the states to receive RTT funding in the first round. The Governor demanded that ODE work with the consultant and be more open to stakeholder involvement and input.
OGF’s activities in preparing the application for Round 2 of the Race to the Top application:
1. The first effort was to help the ODE and the Governor’s office manage communication with the legislature and conduct meaningful outreach with the stakeholders who had been involved with the Beyond Tinkering activities. (These included philanthropy, and organizations like the State School Board Association, the Ohio Teachers Union, district superintendents and teachers (novel thought!) and social service agencies.
2. OGF partnered with KIDSOhio and tasked specifically for producing regular and accurate information to the legislators, including House and Senate Republicans for their input to the application.
3. Race to the Top Application Progress Summaries were sent to all stakeholders to keep them informed. Several stakeholder meetings were convened by OGF in service to the Governor’s office.
In August 2010, Ohio was awarded a Race to the Top grant of $400 million to improve education. It is interesting to note the emphasis on including successful charter schools in eligibility for support. Another Nord Family Foundation grantee, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools (OAPCS) has played a critical role in ensuring the quality of charter school certification and training in the State. Last month, OAPCS sponsored a state-wide event in which State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Deborah Delisle acknowledged the critical importance OAPCS plays in improving the quality of education in Ohio. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised OAPCS for its innovative seminar called The Ohio Alliance Conference on Collaborative Practices focused on shared learning between traditional public and charter schools.
Changing a huge entity like public education is an enormous undertaking requiring focus, discipline and determination.